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Nurses-turned-attorneys have unique insight

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Attorney Lorie Brown says nurses may not understand the many rules that affect their licenses. A mistake on the job or failure to disclose a prior disciplinary action – even something as innocuous as a reprimand for being tardy – could lead to suspension or revocation of their licenses.

Brown was a nurse for 12 years before becoming a lawyer. Now, she hopes to help nurses avoid some of the common mistakes that could land them in litigation.

lorie brown Lorie Brown has combined her skills as an attorney with her knowledge of the nursing profession to create the Nurse Protection Association. (IL photo/Perry Reichanadter)

“Ultimately, I want to be a voice for nurses,” Brown said, adding that in the health care industry, nurses are “80 percent of the workforce but have zero percent of the power.”

A resource

Brown used to represent nurses in hearings before the state nursing board, but she quickly realized that many nurses cannot afford to hire an attorney. So two years ago, she created the Nurse Protection Association. Members pay a fee – between $15 and $30 monthly or $147 to $297 yearly, depending on their current professional status – which goes into a fund that enables Brown to offer legal advice to all members without charging a retainer. The association’s approximately 100 members share equally in paying for legal services.

Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 2, Brown said 32 complaints against nurses had already been filed with the Office of the Indiana Attorney General.

In the past, nurses primarily ran into trouble due to misappropriating medication, Brown said. And a quick glance at nurse complaints on the Indiana Professional Licensing Board’s webpage shows that trend has continued. But often, Brown also finds that nurses make mistakes when filling out applications to renew their licenses.

“Nurses don’t understand the laws that regulate their practice. For example, on the license renewal form the nurse has to fill out every two years, a question specifically says: Have you been disciplined and terminated in your capacity as a registered nurse in the past two years,” she said. Answering that incorrectly constitutes material misrepresentation, Brown said.

Other problems may arise when nursing staffs are stretched too thin to appropriately meet the needs of patients.

Staffing shortages

Wilson Kehoe Winingham attorney Kelly Scanlan was a nurse before she became an attorney, and she said one of the hardest parts of her job in health care was not being able to count on having the proper resources.

She thought nurses were being asked “to do more with less” and that patients – and nurses’ licenses – could be in jeopardy as a result. When she became an attorney, she realized that hunch was correct.

“Working under short-staffed conditions or maybe not having the supplies you need all the time is dangerous,” Scanlan said. “What I realized is that nurses aren’t really focused on protecting their licenses – they are focused on caring for their patients and doing more with less.”

Staffing shortages also forced nurses to take on a lot of administrative work, Scanlan said. She saw the focus shift from patients to paperwork, as harried nurses tried to communicate from shift to shift what each patient needed.

“I don’t know if anybody ever asked me if mom was bonding with baby,” she said. “Good bonding and patient care between patient and nurse really gets lost in the shuffle when you have to keep up with all of that.”

Attorney Lara Engelking is also a former nurse. She is managing partner of Engelking Law Group and is the director of health care litigation services for Caitlin Morgan Insurance Services. In that role, she has become familiar with problems inherent in some nursing homes.

“Sometimes, regulatory agencies cite facilities for things that affect a particular nurse, and then she needs some type of licensure counseling,” Engelking said. “Nurses definitely need to be conscious of the environment they’re working in.”

Scanlan said that in any work environment where nurses struggle with demands caused by inadequate staffing, they must be especially vigilant.

“I think when it comes to some of these things that require corner-cutting, nurses say, I just don’t have any choice,” she said.

A natural connection

The professions of nursing and law share some similarities, and that’s why Scanlan, Brown and Engelking easily transitioned from one occupation to the other.

Scanlan said people depend on nurses and attorneys to help guide them through unfamiliar situations.

“Just the knowledge helps put people at ease so much, and that’s true in nursing and in being at attorney,” she said.

The two professions also can involve stressful situations that contribute to substance abuse problems, which may in turn lead to disciplinary actions for nurses or attorneys. Just like the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program helps lawyers handle problems with addiction, the Indiana State Nurses Assistance Program can help nurses regain control of their lives so they can continue working.

“Nurses suffer from stress and burnout just like attorneys do,” Brown said. Unlike JLAP, however, she said ISNAP’s focus is solely on substance abuse. She would like to see more efforts to help nurses with psychological concerns.

Brown hopes that by providing information to members of the Nurse Protection Association, she can help them avoid some of the pitfalls of the profession. Her website features articles and news that she feels nurses need to know, and will soon feature interactive user forums, where nurses can engage in discussion.

“Everybody knows a nurse, and nurses are the most trusted profession, so if we can get the word out to help them, that’s what I want,” Brown said.•
 

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  • appeal hearing
    I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.
  • RN
    I am experience nurse of 11 years and work on an IMCU with kidney and heart problems. Very stressful floor and now we turned to computers it is even more stressful. I have Multiple Sclersis and the stress is awlful to my disease. I have short term FMLA which I believe can help a lot of nurses that are in the same situation. I feel though I get the worst patients on the floor while others get less. I constantly running around while others are sitting. I suffer from chonic fatique so I'm always tired but my patients love me. Thank for listening Frankie.

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  1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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