Recent Legal Decisions Impacting Nurses

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Recent Legal Decisions Impacting Nurses

BRN discipline and nurse anesthetists

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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Two recent court decisions will affect California nurses. One ruling is broadly applicable to all registered nurses, while the other applies specifically to nurse anesthetists.

Ruling Allows BRN to Discipline Members for Off-Hours Reckless Behavior

In the first case, the California Supreme Court refused to review an appellate court ruling that upheld the power of the State Board of Nursing to take action against a nurse for behavior that occurred off the job: in this case, drunk driving.

In 2009, a licensed nurse in the Silicon Valley was arrested after being involved in an automobile accident and found to have a blood alcohol level of twice the legal limit. The nurse pleaded no contest to a charge of driving under the influence. Even though the nurse’s lawyer claimed the incident had no bearing on the nurse’s qualifications as a nurse, the BRN placed the nurse on probation for three years, an action that means any further infractions could result in the loss of his license. A Superior Court judge agreed with the nurse’s attorney, but a state appellate court ruled that the BRN does have the right to discipline nurses whose alcohol use — on or off the job — endangers the safety of others. By refusing to review the case, the California Supreme Court let the appellate decision stand.

California Supreme Court Supports Nurse Anesthetists
In another case, the state Supreme Court refused to block specially trained nurses from administering anesthetics without a physician’s supervision. The ruling will have a particular effect in rural areas, where nurse anesthetists frequently care for patients without physician monitoring.

A study conducted nationwide in 2010 confirmed that outcomes are the same regardless of whether a nurse anesthetist is supervised by a physician. Currently, 17 states allow CRNAs to practice without physician supervision.

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