School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse – Part Two: Susy Fights Back, But is Justice Served?

This is part two of the cliffhanger, where we find out what happened to Susy, the school nurse who was caught in a legal quagmire. Our guest blogger, Nurse/Attorney Kimberly Kent, shares an inside view of what happens when a nurse is reported to the Board of Nursing and her license and livelihood are on the line.

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Kimberly Kent, RN, BSN, JD

“Defending complaints against your license is critical for continued practice. Many nurses often try to represent themselves with poor outcomes.  These nurses frequently come to me years later trying to undo a suspension or revocation of a matter they thought was straightforward.  Any nurse who tries to represent themselves before their board is much like the doctor who treats himself “having a fool for a patient.”  Obtaining counsel and aggressively defending any claim regardless of merit is the best plan of action.  So, in Susy’s case, we immediately requested documents and interviewed witnesses as if Susy were facing a criminal trial.

The correct defense of any nursing board Complaint must be detailed and comprehensive.  All facts and evidence supporting the accused must be reviewed in detail in a time-consuming and deliberate manner.  In my office, we often say, “the devil is in the details.”  After facts are gathered the Nursing Board should be presented in a written document supporting dismissal.  Nursing boards are often understaffed and overburdened, and as a practical matter, it is much easier for them to simply issue a “reprimand” or some other discipline and close their file rather than conduct a genuine investigation.  However, nurses often see the Board of Nursing as their advocate.  This is flawed.  The Board is not there to clear the record of any nurse.  The Board’s function is to protect the public through regulation and discipline of the nurse. 

Often a thorough written response to a complaint citing to witness statements or other documentation disproving the allegations is enough to shut down a frivolous claim.  In Susy’s case, we were able to get a statement from the officer that he unduly pressured pressure the nurse because he believed he had probable cause of a crime and immediate endangerment of a child.  We were able to get his statement that she never touched the child.  We also discovered documents that showed Susy had tried to contact administration and follow procedure, some facts even she had forgotten.  It seemed obvious that she did not have any physical contact with the child, but we needed to gather that evidence in the form of an affidavit.  Eventually, the Board dismissed the complaint.  I believe even the parents in retrospect were able to let go of their anger as the facts were more fully explained. 

One casualty of this event could not be repaired.  Susy felt abandoned by her employer.  She changed school districts and eventually quit school nursing altogether based on the loss of trust and faith in the school system to support her.  The school eventually under the threat of suit paid her legal fees and apologized formally.  However, the false accusation still professionally and personally haunts Susy.  She must always report when asked that she had a complaint lodged against her.  She is more cautious and guarded with her patients to this day. 

Could this happen to you?  Of course, it could.  Today even the most well-meaning and best health care providers find themselves victims of false accusations.  None are more threatening than accusations of harm toward a child.  Because of the emotional magnitude of our obligation to protect children, people jump to conclusions. Those jumps can quickly turn into false assumptions. 

Here are some tips that may have curtailed this whole scenario:

Check your school policies and procedures for how to handle concerns of sexual abuse and know them in advance of an event. Rarely do reports of abuse come in a straightforward manner. 

  1. Never conduct a physical examination of a minor suspected of sexual assault on school property- this should always be delegated to trained physicians.
  2. Always have another provider or administrator present during any “investigation” by any police authority.
  3. Never agree to an interview by police without the presence of legal counsel.

The failure to provide Susy legal defense was a mistake by the school.  Eventually, they admitted a glitch in their system and agreed to pay her legal fees.  However, personal, professional liability insurance policy would have covered Susy in the interim battle.  Even nurses who do volunteer work occasionally should carry their own insurance.  Here, Susy was out of pocket until the school reimbursed her legal fees years later adding financial strain to an already stressful scenario.  The only good news from this story was that the child was ultimately found to be unharmed.  However, even if the exam had been abnormal, (arguably supporting Susy’s actions) you should assume litigation and complaints would have followed. 

In sum, always carry personal malpractice insurance.  Know that you have the right to contact your personal lawyer – especially if questioned by police. Don’t assume that your well-meaning actions to protect a student will be viewed and received in that light by others.  Finally, if necessary hire a lawyer that has experience in the area in question.  I recommend a lawyer who understands both the medicine and the legality of the claims – “nurse attorney.” You can locate one in your area by contacting:  The American Association of Nurse Attorneys. ”  – Kimberly Kent, RN, BSN, JD

Kimberly Kent RN, BSN, JD is the founding and managing member of a boutique law firm specializing in health care transactions and litigation.  Ms. Kent is a trial attorney representing primarily health providers for over 26 years.  She has successfully tried to verdict numerous complex medical malpractice cases with substantial exposure.  She is a dynamic speaker who often teaches nurses and allied professionals how to improve care through the art of documentation.  One of her greatest joys is defending nurses before the regulatory agencies. Ms. Kent can be reached via email:  kkent@klgaz.com or by calling: 602-264-5600.

 

 

 

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