In California, the practice of nursing is regulated by several different boards and investigatory bodies. The process of dealing with a complaint that threatens your professional license can be complicated and intimidating. Experienced attorneys with knowledge of every facet of the proceedings can make the difference between preserving your livelihood or losing your license. Most cases involve allegations of impairment due to alcohol or drugs (including controlled substances), incompetence in carrying out prescribed duties, or gross negligence in the care and treatment of a patient.
California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN)
In California, the Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) is one of the boards under the Department of Consumer Affairs. The BRN is responsible for licensing and regulating registered nurses and certified advance practice nurses. The Nursing Practice Act provides the BRN with the authorization to license, regulate, and discipline nurses. Complaints from the public, coworkers, employers, patients, and family members may be brought to the BRN. Complaints filed by third parties generate most disciplinary actions. The BRN thoroughly investigates alleged violations of the Nursing Practice Act.
The BRN enforcement proceedings involve the following steps:
- Files are opened when complaints are submitted to the BRN.
- The initial analysis determines whether or not there is a jurisdictional justification for handling the complaint.
- If the BRN does not find jurisdiction, then the complaint file is closed.
- If the BRN finds the complaint falls within its purview, then the determination is made as to whether the matter qualifies for the Diversion Program.
- If the subject of the complaint does not proceed through alternative resolution, then the BRN gathers information through the Division of Investigation of the California Department of Consumer Affairs and BRN staff, among other sources.
- After the investigatory process, the complaint may be closed for lack of sufficient evidence. This closure can be effectuated with a finding of merit or no merit, depending upon whether or not the Board believes there was some proof, but not enough to warrant moving forward.
- If the complaint allegations are deemed to be substantiated, then the file may be referred to the Office of the Attorney General for prosecution or sent to the department that manages citations and fines for less serious infractions.
- If the matter is prosecuted, the nurse is entitled to a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), who will render a decision that is taken under consideration by the BRN in reaching its final decision.
- A nurse may appeal a final decision of the BRN to superior court.
An attorney can help resolve a complaint before it leads to a final disciplinary finding and punishment. However, if you have been subject to a disciplinary action that resulted in probation, some steps may be taken to minimize the length and/or terms of probation. To modify probation or obtain reinstatement:
- An attorney or nurse files a petition for modification after the minimum probationary period has passed;
- An attorney or nurse presents evidence before the BRN. The Office of the Attorney General will also can submit evidence;
- The administrative law judge renders a decision; and
- The BRN grants or denies the petition and may impose additional terms.
California Board of Registered Nursing Diversion Program
The BRN also runs the Diversion Program, which seeks to address issues related to impairment and mental illness. In certain cases, the Diversion Program may allow a registered nurse to avoid a traditional disciplinary program or prosecution. This program allows some registered nurses to obtain treatment as an alternative to a formal disciplinary proceeding. However, the nurse will not be eligible for the program if he or she has: been disciplined by the BRN for chemical dependency or mental illness on a prior occasion; caused harm or death to a patient; sold controlled substances, or previously been discharged from a Diversion Program due to noncompliance.
Deciding whether to enroll in the BRN’s Diversion Program is a major decision. If the BRN’s Diversion Program has contacted you, you should seek legal advice from an attorney who has experience dealing with the BRN.
California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians (BVNPT)
Similar to the BRN, the Board of Vocational Nurses and Psychiatric Technicians (BVNPT) regulates the licensing and regulation of vocational nurses. The BVNPT may bring enforcement actions against nurses for acting in an unsafe, incompetent, or impaired manner.
Typically, the charges involve gross negligence, incompetence, or a criminal conviction of the nurse that is brought to the attention of the relevant regulatory body. Complaints may be filed by anyone who believes a violation of licensing provisions has occurred, including consumers and/or their family members, medical professionals, law enforcement personnel, or health care facilities. The complaint process follows the same general guidelines set forth above for the BRN. However, the BVNPT, unlike the BRN, does not have a Diversion Program.