Committee passes bill that targets drug-addicted healthcare workers

NASHVILLE, TN (WJHL) – Legislation that would protect Tennesseans from drug-addicted doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other healthcare workers passed unanimously today during a Senate Health and Welfare Committee meeting.

Before voting on the bill, lawmakers watched our Community Watchdog investigation that sparked the push for change. Our investigation found delays in discipline that allowed drug-addicted nurses to keep their licenses and find new jobs while under investigation, which put patients at risk in the process.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rusty Crowe (R), TN-District 3, aims to prevent problems in the future by creating a new process of reporting in Tennessee. Under current law, Sen. Crowe says employers like hospitals or clinics are not required to tell the Tennessee Department of Health when someone fails or refuses a drug test. His legislation would change that.

“The legislation would establish a new process to identify healthcare providers with drug addictions and either suspend their licenses or compel them to undergo drug addiction treatment,” Sen. Crowe said during Monday’s hearing.

He said the bill would make it a requirement for employers to notify the state. The agency would then look at each case and determine if emergency license suspension would be necessary to keep the public safe, according to Sen. Crowe. If not, the department would refer the healthcare worker to a substance abuse treatment program. Sen. Crowe says the legislation would give the Department of Health more authority and a more clear path to protect patients.

“No one’s at fault here,” he said. “We’ve got a complicated system where everyone was trying to do the right thing, but the way it was all put together it was very hard to separate someone who’s addicted to drugs from patients that they shouldn’t be dealing with while they’re addicted.”

Sen. Crowe told his fellow committee members he thinks the legislation is fair, because it doesn’t ruin a person’s career. Instead, he says the proposal only punishes those who are a threat and those who don’t comply.

“You’re giving someone that chance to work things out, but you’re separating them from patients at the same time,” he said.

The bill now heads to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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