Empowering Nurses at the Bedside and in Business

Nurses disciplined for drugs, alcohol

Two recent nursing school graduates who rebounded from youthful cocaine and drunken driving convictions have been granted probationary licenses, while several other local nurses face disciplinary action for drug abuse and lying.

Nurses are more prone to drug abuse than workers in other occupations because “they have more access to drugs and they have a lot of stress,” said Lorie Brown, an Indianapolis attorney, registered nurse and founder of empowerednurses.org. “A lot of nurses resort to things to alter their sensorium. They use alcohol or drugs to numb their feelings. It’s a high-stress job with a lot of emotion. They’ve involved with illness and dying in family situations. They get a glimpse of humanity most people don’t get to see.”

In addition, nurses are taught ethics in nursing school but most are not taught the law; they are often undervalued or not listened to at work; their jobs are easily lost during cost cutting; and a lot of the nurses defended by Brown in disciplinary cases never thought they would get caught, she said.

The state nursing board doesn’t keep statistics on disciplinary cases, but board director Elizabeth Kiefner Crawford told The Star Press the most common cause of disciplinary action involves diversion of medication for self or others.

There are currently about 106,000 RNs and about 28,000 licensed practical nurses in Indiana.

The Indiana attorney general’s office recently filed complaints asking the nursing board to discipline:

* Peggy Jo Gregory, a former Muncie nurse who in 2008 tested positive for cocaine while working as an RN supervisor at IU Health Blackford Hospital, which terminated her. Renewing her license on Nov. 4, 2009, Gregory allegedly lied, reporting that she had not been terminated since her last license renewal. The next day, Gregory was terminated again, from Willowbend Living Center, for missing urine drug screens, drug therapy sessions and urine drug screens.

* Tamera Gonzalez, Muncie, who was asked to take a urine drug screen by The Woodlands life care center after two of a patient’s Vicodin pain pills came up missing during a shift change. Gonzalez allegedly refused the drug screen, removed the trash from the medicine cart, left the facility and resigned later that day.

Brown advises nurses to follow three basic rules: Always keep the nursing board informed of your current address; always be honest on your license renewal application; and always tell your next employer if your previous employer fired you.

“I would much rather miss out on a job opportunity because I was truthful than place my license in jeopardy by misrepresenting facts to the nursing board,” Brown said.

It’s important for nurses to keep the board abreast of address changes because some nurses have been disciplined without their knowledge as a result of changing addresses without informing the board, Brown said.

In other recent disciplinary actions, the nursing board:

* Issued a license to Courtney Sheppard, 28, Muncie, but placed it on indefinite probation. Sheppard graduated from nursing school in May. During the license application process, Sheppard truthfully revealed that she had been convicted of drunken driving in 2003; arrested for illegal consumption of alcohol in 2004; convicted of having an open container of alcohol in her car in 2005; arrested for drunken driving again in 2006; and convicted of drunken driving in 2007.

“Sheppard acknowledges she has made mistakes in the past and maintains that she is committed to living a more responsible life,” the board ruled. “She also has been an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous since 2008.”

* Also issued a license to Nakia Williams, 32, Muncie, who also graduated from nursing school in May. Her license also was placed on indefinite probation.

On her application, Williams truthfully revealed that she had been convicted of possession of cocaine in 2000, of battery in 2006, and that she has had several other arrests not resulting in convictions.

In a personal appearance before the board, Williams said the cocaine conviction stemmed from her car being pulled over by police, who found cocaine. Williams told the board she was not using the cocaine but selling it. The battery charge resulted from a fight with another girl.

“Williams is working in the health care field and maintains that she is committed to living a more responsible life in the future,” the board ruled.

* Suspended the license of Ashley Burgauer, 27, Muncie, who was terminated by IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital after being suspected of diverting narcotics; testing positive for marijuana; providing false information about why she left work early one day; and missing three urine drug screens while enrolled in a recovery program.

“My goal is to teach nurses how to stand up for themselves while legally protecting their license,” said Brown, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing before going to law school. “When I was a nurse, I saw things happening that were frankly very scary — patients dying who shouldn’t have, things like that. When you said something, you’d get in trouble. I feel I can do much more good on this side (legal) than the other (nursing).”

Contact Seth Slabaugh at 765 123-5834765 123-5834.

Star Press – Muncie, Ind.  Author: Seth Slabaugh August 10, 2013


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