Over the last twelve months the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing has suspended more than 130 licensees on the basis of impairment. Often that impairment involves a dependence on drugs and alcohol.
We dug deeper and found that right now there are more than 950 open case files of suspended nurses being handled by Professional Health Monitoring programs at the Bureau of Professional & Occupational Affairs .
Program manager Kevin Knipe is quick to point out that there are more than 277,000 licensed nurses in the Commonwealth.
“It’s not an epidemic,” said Knipe about the caseload, “it’s a fact that nurses have the same addiction rate as the general public.”
Betsy Snook, a registered nurse and CEO of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, believes the job of nursing is getting harder and that’s creating more pressure on caregivers.
“We have sicker patients, we have compassion fatigue and we work longer hours,” said Snook, “and that can lead to nurses not functioning as well as they could.”
Outreach and education can help identify those who need assistance.
“I’ve been to a facility where I’ve gone over the mandatory reporting obligation and somebody will say I had no idea I had to report this,” said Knipe.
Once reported, the process of making a determination on impairment is handled by a trained medical professional. Once that’s done, Knipe’s office then monitors licensee compliance with all recommended treatments and drug testings. The costs are borne by the licensee.
“At some level it’s also rewarding to know that there are some cases where someone is unfit to practice that you can insure the public is protected,” said Knipe.