Lawmakers pass legislation targeting drug-addicted health care workers

SULLIVAN COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – Tennessee lawmakers unanimously passed a bill Tuesday night that pledges to better protect patients from drug-addicted healthcare workers. The legislation, sparked by our Community Watchdog investigation, is now awaiting the governor’s signature.

Both the Senate and House approved the proposal. On the Senate floor, Sen. Rusty Crowe (R), District 3, gave credit to WJHL for exposing a serious health care problem that he hopes his legislation will address.

“We’re reporting impaired providers, we’re evaluating them, we’re separating them from patients,” Sen. Crowe said of the legislation.

The bill would require any health care worker who refuses to submit to a drug test or tests positive and doesn’t have a prescription for the drug or a valid medical reason to report to a substance abuse peer assistance or treatment program within three business days of the failed drug test. Those who complete treatment will be able to return to work, but those who don’t will risk suspension of their license.

“When a health care practitioner fails a drug test and it’s determined they are truly a bad actor, then they will refer to a rehabilitation center and if they successfully complete that, they can go on,” Rep. John Holsclaw (R), District 4, said. “Otherwise, their license is suspended.”

Although Marylynne Conkin feels the legislation falls short in that it doesn’t mandate investigations in every case of a failed drug test, she thinks the bill will help. A drug-addicted nurse previously took pain medication from her uncle while in the care of an area nursing home.

“I think anything is better than it was,” she said. “I think there could be more…I like that they have to report it and the treatment, if they want to keep their license, I think that’s the least that they can do and hopefully, the treatment will be effective.”

Conkin hopes the legislation sparks a continued conversation about the problem. In addition to a nurse victimizing her uncle, she says she’s also dealt with the issue during a medical procedure of her own.

“I’ve had the same experience and I feel like so many people are not willing to speak up about it or push the issue,” she said. “I feel pretty strongly about this, very strongly.”

In addition to requiring rehab, the bill would also make it easier for hospitals, clinics and other employers to share disciplinary information about employees with other companies that are hiring.

Wellmont Health System and Mountain States Health Alliance shared details of their processes in response to the passage of the legislation.

“Wellmont Health System is aware of the legislation that has been introduced and passed in the House and Senate and is reviewing the contents,” Wellmont Health System said in a statement. “The safety and well-being of patients and co-workers have always been paramount for our organization, and we will remain vigilant about protecting those we are privileged to serve. We take this issue seriously and do not permit usage of drugs that have not been lawfully prescribed by a medical professional. As part of our commitment to a healthy workforce, we have procedures in place to work collaboratively with appropriate agencies should we discover a medical practitioner is using a drug improperly.”

“If a team member requests assistance with an addiction problem, Mountain States makes every effort to connect the individual with the appropriate resources, including inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation and counseling,” MSHA said in a statement. “However, patient safety is our number one priority, and Mountain States Health Alliance is a Tennessee Drug-Free Workplace. We conduct routine random drug testing at all levels of the organization and in all departments. If testing reveals the use of a prohibited substance and the team member is unable to provide acceptable medical documentation to justify the test results, the team member’s employment is immediately terminated. If the team member requests help prior to a drug test, he or she may be placed on a leave of absence while treatment takes place. If the request for help comes after a positive drug test and termination of employment. Mountain States will still offer assistance in connecting with the appropriate recovery resources.”

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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