MSHA: Allowing recovering nurses to continue to work “the right thing to do”

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – A Johnson City Medical Center nurse is back at work after a grand jury indicted her last month on charges related to drug diversion. Not only is her employer standing behind her, but Mountain States Health Alliance’s chief nursing executive said helping recovering nurses return to the workforce and being a part of the community “is the right thing to do.”

Several viewers reached out to us wanting to know why Kimberly Click is back at work. We obtained a hospital schedule that confirmed her continued employment. MSHA wouldn’t talk specifically about her case, but did direct us to Click’s licensing information, which shows her nursing license is on probation with strict monitoring that allows her to continue working with patients, even with a criminal case pending.

The same state licensing records that show Click admitted diverting opioids two to three times a day gave her the chance to return to work as long as she entered a monitoring program for the next three years.

MSHA Chief Nursing Executive Melanie Stanton says the health system is doing its part to fight the stigma associated with addiction and help nurses who are in recovery on a case-by-case basis by not giving up on them.

“It’s a disease and there’s stigma around that,” Stanton said. “Bad things happen to good people and it’s very, very important that we also manage the disease, because that’s what we do in health care is we manage disease.”

All nurses in recovery with the Tennessee Professional Assistance Program have strict restrictions and must pass random drug tests, attend support group meetings and comply 100% with the program or else face possible license suspension, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

“While they’re in the program, they do not have access to the narcotics, so the risk to the patient is minimized,” Stanton said.

Stanton says a pending criminal charge doesn’t change any of that. Stanton says what really matters is the competency of the nurse, their work history and their willingness to participate in the TnPAP program.

“If they are good citizens and good participants of that program, then we continue to work with that nurse,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s our duty to monitor these nurses and make sure that they can get back in the workforce and be a part of our community and have a job. Should they not prove to be a safe, competent nurse, then we will terminate employment.”

The Tennessee Nurses Association created what is now TnPAP decades ago as an alternative to discipline.

“The theory was if you could get a nurse in recovery from this disease and monitor them very closely, they would be safe to return to practice and you would save a nurse’s license,” TnPAP Executive Director Mike Harkreader said. “Nurses who divert drugs are not bad people. They’re individuals suffering from a disease. We are able to help most nurses.”

TnPAP reports 78% of the medical professionals who signed monitoring agreements over the last seven years successfully completed the program, which he says means a minimum of two years of consistent documented sobriety. In the meantime, he says the number of relapses continues to decline, down 60% statewide over the last few years.

“If they do relapse, we immediately take them out of practice to protect the public and we would notify their supervisor,” he said.

Stanton says MSHA is now better than ever at catching employee drug diversion early, which she says leads to a higher recovery success rate and a safer environment for patients.

TnPAP reports 330 medical professionals statewide, including 288 nurses, are currently taking part in the monitoring program with 16 referrals coming from the Tri-Cities in the last year alone.

Advocates for nurses in recovery say other than the fact narcotics are more accessible to nurses in the workplace, they are just like any other person in any other industry, all of whom are susceptible to the disease of addiction.

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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