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A program for recovering nurses

If you work with 10 nurses, one of them is likely to be struggling with their use of alcohol or other drugs.

This story was published in the Spring-Summer 2022 issue of The Washington Nurse magazine.

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The American Nurses Association estimates that six to eight percent of nurses misuse alcohol or other drugs to an extent that may impair professional performance. Others estimate the prevalence of substance use disorder among nurses mirrors that of the general population (10 to 15 percent). That means that if you work with 10 nurses, one of them is likely to be struggling with their use of alcohol or other drugs.

In addition, COVID-19 along with other occupational stresses have contributed to increased substance use and mental health challenges.

Substance misuse can result in negative consequences for health care professionals including loss of income, license, or even life. Substance misuse also jeopardizes the public that depends on them for care. In the workplace, absenteeism, accidents, injuries, stress-related illnesses, and medication diversion are only some of the consequences that can result if the disease is left untreated. The associated costs are significant and affect employers, co-workers, clients, family, and the community at large.

The Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission recognizes the need to establish a means of providing early recognition and treatment options for nurses whose competency may be impaired due to substance use disorder. The commission intends that such nurses be treated, and their treatment monitored so that they can return to or continue to practice their profession in a manner that safeguards the public. The Washington Health Professional Services (WHPS) program is the commission's approved substance use monitoring program under RCW 18.130.175.

WHPS provides structured case management to nurses with substance use disorder, allowing nurses to retain their license and continue to practice while documenting recovery and safety to practice. Health care professionals who receive treatment and participate in monitoring achieve higher rates of long-term recovery than the public.

Nurses and employers may contact WHPS directly without a complaint being filed with the commission. Voluntary participants are not subject to disciplinary action as a first option and do not have their participation made known to the commission. Primary stakeholders (employer, health care providers) are informed to support recovery and safe practice.

Voluntary participation also carries the advantage of timely evaluation and referral to treatment. To discuss your situation or concerns about a colleague, contact WHPS at 360-236-2880, option #1, or email whps@doh.wa.gov.