You’re an advanced practice nurse with prescriptive authority, employed by a staffing agency. During week 12 of your 20-week assignment at a large correctional facility, your supervisor intercepts you on your way to your office and whisks you off to a conference room for an unexpected meeting. On the way there, he says your staffing agency administrator wants you to contact her immediately after this meeting.
As you enter the conference room, you see a daunting array of unsmiling people. You’re introduced to a county law enforcement officer and investigators from the state attorney general’s office, board of pharmacy, and board of nursing. The county law enforcement officer tells you the state is investigating allegations that facility employees and independent contractors have been giving contraband to inmates. Although you’re not under arrest, he says your cooperation in this investigation would be “greatly appreciated.” The group would like to interview you in a tape-recorded session and then have you provide a written statement.
How should you respond?
A. Agree to be interviewed on tape and to provide a written statement afterward.
B. Agree to be interviewed, but refuse to be taped unless your own attorney is present.
C. Agree to cooperate with the investigation through your attorney.
D. Agree to give a taped interview and written statement now, and then retain an attorney later if the matter doesn’t resolve on its own.
The best response is C. An investigation into who has been giving contraband to inmates or who has knowledge of such conduct can have serious criminal, employment, and licensure implications. You have the right to be represented by an attorney, and should tell investigators you’ll be retaining legal counsel and will cooperate with the investigation through your attorney.
Many nurses would be tempted to choose answer A, B, or D. When hauled into a roomful of intimidating investigators, your first instinct might be to do whatever they ask. You might make a snap decision to cooperate voluntarily and freely, hoping to get the whole unpleasant business over with as soon as possible. But that would be unwise: In this high-pressure situation, you’re bound to feel anxious and flustered and might say something that could be held against you.
Or perhaps you think hiring an attorney would give the impression that you are guilty or have something to hide. Don’t fall into this trap. It’s always best to have an attorney represent you from the start.
When caught up in an investigation like this one, you’d want to get answers to a wide array of questions, such as:
• Am I the subject of a criminal investigation?
• What are the specific roles of the attorney general’s investigator, county law enforcement
officer, board of nursing and board of pharmacy investigators, and onsite supervisor in this
• Has a complaint been filed against me with the state licensure board?
• Why does my staffing agency administrator want to speak with me?
• Could this investigation affect my certification or licensure in another state or in the Nurse Licensure Compact?
Answers to these questions aren’t cut and dry, and you’ll need assistance. Schedule a legal consultation with an administrative law attorney. Or contact your state nurses association for information and guidance. Some state nurses associations offer workplace consultations. Keep in mind, though, that a discussion with someone who’s not an attorney isn’t protected by attorney-client privilege.
Should you represent yourself?
You have the right to represent yourself. If you take this route, at a minimum you’ll need to:
• read up on the laws, regulations, processes, and procedures regarding investigations by county law enforcement agencies, the attorney general’s office, and the pharmacy and nursing boards
• review your state’s nurse practice act, state board of nursing regulations, and the process and procedures of nursing board disciplinary investigations and the adjudicative process.
Obviously, doing all this won’t be easy. And representing yourself is always risky. Whenever possible, hire an attorney instead.
What about attorney fees and other costs?
Regulatory board investigations are administrative and quasi-criminal matters, so the state won’t provide an attorney for you. You’ll have to retain one yourself.
If you carry your own professional liability insurance policy, find out if it will cover legal costs and expenses associated with defending your license. Contact your insurer to make a claim for licensure defense, and ask about the scope of coverage and attorney selection it provides.
If you don’t have professional liability insurance, contact your state nurses association and ask for a referral to an attorney who’s familiar with nursing law and regulations. Or contact The American Association of Nurse Attorneys (TAANA) at www.taana.org.
— LaTonia Denise Wright
BSN, RN, JD
Home health nurse (per diem)
For a complete list of selected references, visit www.AmericanNurseToday.com
The information above does not constitute legal advice. American Nurse Today would like to thank Nancy Brent, MS, RN, JD, and LaTonia Denise Wright, BSN, RN, JD, cochairs of the Publication and Products Committee of TAANA, for organizing and coordinating this article.