Editor’s Note: this article was written and posted on March 24, 2020, during the COVID-19 global pandemic. It reflects a state of affairs in California that changes hourly. The information contained may be out of date.
California continues to experience extremely high demand for nurses in critical care settings to response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Nurses who are healthy and able to work are demonstrating courage and heroism daily. However, many nurses are laboring to comply with and complete Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) probation, due to license disciplinary issues from past mistakes. Particularly for nurses who have alcohol-related probation terms, there are serious obstacles to compliance that the BRN has not yet addressed. Specifically, nurses subject to Optional Term 15: Rehabilitation Program, Term 17: Submit to Tests and Samples, and Term 19: Therapy or Counseling Program, are required to complete tasks that the statewide shutdown may render impossible.
Term 15 is a broadly-written probationary requirement that mandates an alcohol program for all licensees who are subject to this term. The requirement of the program itself can be satisfied, typically, by proof of completion of a court-ordered program (such as an alcohol program assigned after a DUI conviction), but the term also mandates ongoing attendance at AA meetings and at a nurse support group. These public meetings are mandatory, but the Board has not published guidance on how these meetings can be conducted in light of the stay-at-home mandate ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom.
As of today’s date (March 24, 2020), the Board appears to be adopting an ad-hoc approach to individual probation cases, depending on the probation monitor. Some probationers are being told to attend meetings online, others have had the AA condition waived. The best practice at this time appears to be to immediately contact the probation monitor for clarification on how to fulfill this requirement.
Term 17: Submit to Tests and Samples, requires that the licensee travel to a collection site and provide an in-person drug screen upon request. It is unclear how these tests will be administered to symptomatic individuals who have been ordered to self-isolate while they recover or wait for COVID-19 test results.
This requirement continues to be enforced, but if a licensee cannot travel, it is recommended that they obtain a written directive from their physician’s office detailing the order to self-isolate.
Term 19: Therapy or Counseling Program, at least has several potential solutions. Many therapists are reaching patients using video-conferencing technology or simple smartphone apps. Proof of counseling must still be provided upon request to the BRN.
If you have been given specific information or directives from a BRN probation monitor that you cannot comply with, contact experienced legal counsel immediately to discuss your situation.