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When Office Politics Result in a Referral to IPN or PRN

Health care practitioners need to be aware that there is an increasing risk that their employers might refer them to Intervention Project for Nurses (IPN) or Professionals Resource Network (PRN) due to interpersonal conflict or other reasons, which are NOT VALID reasons for a referral to either of these organizations. Employer referrals of their employees to IPN and PRN for invalid reasons can cause serious consequences for the health care practitioners.

It should be mentioned that IPN and PRN are excellent programs for people who truly need help in order to keep a health care license. IPN and PRN provide valuable services in evaluating and monitoring impaired practitioners by helping them recover from their conditions and returning to work when safe to practice. However, many times, individuals who do not need help from IPN or PRN end up getting referred to these programs for invalid reasons. Such unjustified referrals can have severe adverse effects on their licenses and frequently require time and effort in proving that they do not belong in the programs. The fact is that the majority of Florida’s 280,000 nurses do not have drug or alcohol problems, as only 11,000 nurses have been through IPN in 25 years.1

Due to the high financial cost, limitations on working conditions (e.g. IPN usually does not allow nurses to work in home health), and time demands for meetings and drugs screens, licensees who feel they have wrongly been referred to IPN or PRN should consult with a professional licensing attorney before agreeing to be evaluated by IPN or PRN.

How does a licensee get referred to IPN or PRN? Usually, the employee is called into Human Resources (HR) or their manager’s office and advised that he/she will be reported to the Florida Board of Nursing (BON), Florida Board of Medicine (BOM), Florida Board of Physical Therapy, Florida Board Dentistry, Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine or other Department of Health governing body, if the employee does not self-report to IPN or PRN.

Some unscrupulous employers know that IPN and PRN can be a long and tedious process and use the system to retaliate against employees by referring them to these programs even when there is little or no reason to do so. Also, if an employee refuses to self-refer to IPN or PRN, the employer can send a referral letter to IPN or PRN, which in turn contacts the employee to set up an evaluation. IPN and PRN do not investigate to see if the employer’s referral is valid; instead they just set you up to be evaluated by an approved specialist.

Further, IPN and PRN have set unreasonably broad reasons for employers to refer employees to these programs. Many reasons for referral may have nothing to do with substance abuse problems or untreated psychiatric illnesses. For example, atypical weight changes, inability to mentally focus and track with a conversation, unsatisfactory documentation performances and/or illegible written communication, defensive if questioned or confronted, missed deadlines, and frequent absences or illness, are some of the inappropriate reasons which employers sometimes use for referral of their employees to IPN and PRN. Many licensees also frequently face false accusations of misconduct or wrongdoing by patients, families of patients, employers and work place rivals that result in a referral to IPN or PRN.

Another situation for a possible wrongful referral is when a practioner/licensee has been diagnosed with an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protected condition like ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, or eating disorders, and the employer wants to get IPN or PRN involved. Usually, if you are being treated by a professional for your mental health issue, then there is no need to have IPN or PRN also monitor you. In fact, in Chapman Law Group’s experience, this type of “double management” only complicates matters and leads to conflict.

IPN and PRN programs require the licensee go through an organized process involving intake, evaluation and monitoring. If the licensee refuses to participate a report is made to the Department of Health which begins a process involving an investigation that can lead to disciplinary action against the licensee. In that situation, the licensee will receive a Florida Board of Nursing Complaint, Florida Board of Medicine Complaint, Florida Board of Pharmacy Complaint, Florida Board of Physical Therapy Complaint, or any other respective Board’s complaint letter.

It is often in your best interest not to agree to be immediately evaluated by IPN or PRN. You should first consider speaking with a qualified attorney such as someone from Chapman Law Group. If you do not belong in IPN or PRN, we can help you protect your license(s) by responding to the Department of Health.

1. The Tampa Tribune, “Secret program lets nurses get drug treatment on the job” Lindsay Peterson
Published: June 25, 2010