NYSNA REPORT: October/November 2002
NY State Ed Clarifies Rules on Patient Abandonment
by Anne Schott
What is-and what is not-patient abandonment has long troubled nurses. Can refusing to work overtime put your RN license at risk? What about saying "no" to an assignment in an unfamiliar unit where you lack necessary skills?
In response to a rising number of questions about such issues, the State Education Department, (which is the licensing board for RNs in NY state), has issued a clarification that is now being mailed to every RN in the state.
The good news is SED has made clear that, in most cases, refusing a double shift or additional hours beyond the posted work schedule when proper notification has been given is NOT patient abandonment or unprofessional conduct. Nor is refusing an assignment when you give reasonable notice that you lack competence to carry out that assignment.
Barbara Zittel, executive secretary to the NY State Board for Nursing, said, "The State Education Department views abandonment as a serious charge. It is, however, inappropriate for nurses to be threatened with charges of abandonment to coerce them to work additional hours or care for patients beyond their expertise.
Words of Caution:
This clarification applies to actions by the State Education Department and should help eliminate inappropriate management threats. But it does not protect NY RNs from separate and independent actions by their employer. A nurse who refuses an assignment or informs a supervisor that future such assignments will be refused could be suspended for insubordination.
Members who belong to NYSNA bargaining units may have additional protections through the grievance process negotiated in their contracts. But no one should assume that these new guidelines automatically protect them from employer actions because SED has no jurisdiction over employers.
What is "Reasonable Notice"?
The new document also clarifies employer abandonment, which "may occur if a nurse fails to give reasonable notice to an employer of the intent to terminate the employer/employee relationship or contract under circumstances that seriously impair the delivery of professional care to patients or clients." Some nurses have asked, "What is reasonable notice?" "Why hasn't a time frame been established?"
The language in this section comes from the New York State Regents guidelines for all professionals and cannot be changed or interpreted by SED. The facts of a given situation will determine what is "reasonable notice."
More Information Available
The State Board for Nursing is preparing a series of frequently asked questions and answers on this topic, which will soon be available on the web: www.op.nysed.gov/nurse.htm.
You can also e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
, or call 518.474.3817, ext.120.