Firm to retool nurse program
Nonprofit corporation from Michigan will get $249,000 yearly to run substance-abuse effort.
By Bonnie Harris
July 03, 2001
A Michigan company plans to overhaul Indiana's program for drug- and alcohol-impaired nurses, keeping closer tabs on the participants and adding a big dose of education for all nurses.
In return, the state has agreed to pay Professional Recovery Monitoring Corp. $249,000 annually, which is about $73,000 more than Dr. D. Kete Cockrell was paid to run the program last year.
"I think that what we are going to get now is a well-established, comprehensive program," said Marsha King. She chairs the Indiana State Board of Nursing, which oversees the licensing and discipline of 104,000 nurses.
That was not what Cockrell had been delivering.
An investigation by The Indianapolis Star last year revealed that for more than three years, Cockrell had failed to adequately monitor addicted nurses in the Indiana State Nurses Assistance Program. Specifically, Cockrell:
• Did not always use random urine drug screening to monitor nurses' recoveries.
• Did not provide a statewide educational program for nurses.
• And did not always keep accurate records.
By voluntarily entering the assistance program, nurses with drug problems may remain anonymous and avoid discipline from the Indiana State Board of Nursing. The program is supposed to monitor the nurses' recoveries and refer them to the board if they fail to stay clean.
Professional Recovery Monitoring is a nonprofit organization that oversees rehabilitation programs in Michigan for 21 health professions, including nurses and doctors. It will provide stricter monitoring of Indiana nurses who abuse alcohol or drugs, said Tom Bissonnette, executive director of Indiana's new program.
Under Cockrell's watch, it took as long as 31/2 weeks to follow up with a nurse who had a suspicious result on a drug test, Bissonnette said, explaining he has reviewed some of Cockrell's records.
Such a lax approach means a nurse who diluted her urine sample for a drug test could continue working even though she had resumed using drugs. For vulnerable hospital and nursing home patients, that could be dangerous. Not only could nurses be stealing their medications, they might be too impaired to deliver good care.
At most, Bissonnette said, his company will take 48 hours to follow up on a suspicious drug test. A computerized monitoring system will make it more difficult to ignore warning signs, he said.
He plans to tweak the program's drug screening, too, testing for more drugs -- particularly ones nurses tend to handle. These include some painkillers and sleeping pills.
Delivering the changes will be a staff of five, who will rotate through an Indianapolis office. Most of the staff will remain in Michigan for most of the year.
State officials said that arrangement is acceptable.
Because this company is only monitoring the nurses and not providing treatment or therapy, much of the work can be done from Michigan, said Beth Compton, executive director of Indiana's health professions bureau.
To assure that nurses are in good treatment programs, Bissonnette said, his company will perform rigorous reviews of the people who do provide the one-on-one care for nurses in their own communities.
He also plans a big emphasis on education, a component almost totally missing from Cockrell's program.
What Cockrell couldn't do in four years, Bissonnette promised his company will begin rolling out as early as August. The programs will reach nurses and nursing students throughout the state, alerting them to the dangers of drug abuse and letting them know that there is a program that helps them get treatment before they lose their jobs.
Currently, the Indiana State Nurses Assistance Program monitors 151 nurses.
Contact Bonnie Harris at 1-317-444-6885 or via e-mail at [email protected]