Many licensed professionals are increasingly finding themselves at the mercy of non-governmental organizations that wield enormous power over the ability of health care and other licensed professionals to simply work and earn a livelihood. Known as the Impaired Professional Network (“IPN”) and the Professional Resource Network (“PRN”), these groups were created by the Florida Legislature (§ 456.076, Fla. Stat.) to assist professionals who may have substance abuse or alcohol problems that can affect their ability to safely render services to the public. While it sounds like a great concept, in practice, these statutes provide virtually no standards to be followed by IPN or PRN in deciding who may be subject to expensive and lengthy treatment programs to maintain their licenses.
The process will typically begin with a complaint investigation into allegations that a professional may have a substance abuse or alcohol problem. This might be triggered by an employer reporting concerns to the Board of Nursing, or by arrest for a DUI or possession of a controlled substance. Rather than face formal disciplinary sanctions, many professionals agree to enter into a “contract” with IPN or PRN for assessment and treatment. Once under “contract”, the professional is now at the mercy of IPN or PRN as to the requirements of a treatment program. For example, IPN or PRN may demand that the professional enter a 90-day inpatient treatment program costing as much as $40,000.00 – more than many professionals can reasonably afford – as a contract requirement. Failure to comply results in potential license suspension or revocation, and payment of fines. Another example would be failing to timely respond to a urine test request or testing positive for a controlled substance. In such cases IPN or PRN can impose a requirement to extend a lengthy multi-year “contract” for even longer periods of monitoring at the person’s own expense.
Worse, there are almost no due process rights to challenge an IPN or PRN decision. For example, a professional might be ordered by IPN or PRN to attend an exorbitantly expensive rehabilitation program on the basis that the person had a glass of wine at dinner, or smoked marijuana while not at work or on duty. Even though the professional could present overwhelming evidence that they do not have an alcohol or substance abuse problem, including testimony from employers of exemplary work performance and absolutely zero indication of any substance abuse problem, the professional can still have their license suspended or revoked simply because they did not comply with a decision of IPN or PRN to participate in the inpatient treatment program. The administrative hearing rights have been limited to simply deciding whether or not IPN or PRN ordered a treatment, and whether or not the individual complied. In short, due process has, for all practical purposes, been eliminated and IPN and PRN have no accountability for their decisions which can have a dramatic and even devastating impact on the professional’s career.
This process has been described as a “trap” and the full implications of the IPN/PRN trap are discussed here.
While nobody would suggest that an impaired physician, nurse, or other professional should be allowed to practice on patients, there also needs to accountability in the system that ensures protection to the professionals subject to these programs. Having a glass of wine or a beer at home, while off-duty and not on-call, should not be a career ending offense. Yet that is exactly the situation that many professionals encounter in agreeing to enter into an IPN or PRN program. Some professionals are now beginning to explore their legal options to challenge the IPN and PRN system. Whether through circuit court legal challenges, administrative litigation, or legislative change (or a combination of all three), professionals subject to IPN and PRN arbitrary actions may have legal avenues available to them to bring about reform in an unfair system.
If you believe IPN or PRN are threatening your ability to practice your profession, contact an attorney at Smith & Associates to discuss your rights and options.