Do I Need To Self-Report To The Department Of Public Health?

By: Cody N. Guarnieri, Esq.

When a nurse gets arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Connecticut, a "DUI", does he or she need to self-report to the Department of Public Health? To the Board of Nursing Examiners? What about a doctor who refers himself to substance abuse treatment for a substance dependency? What about for an emotional disorder or mental health issue? Does it matter whether the arrest, substance abuse or emotional disorder have had no impact on the work of the medical professional to date?

These are some of the thorny issues that we deal with regularly in practicing professional licensure defense law. This is also where my licensure defense work can bleed into my criminal defense or medical malpractice practices.

The (very) short answer, is whether to self-report and to whom is a function of the circumstances in virtually every case. The Department of Public Health licenses virtually all healthcare providers in Connecticut under their powers in various chapters of the Connecticut General Statutes.

In some cases, whether to report is straight-forward decision. Under Connecticut General Statute Section 19a-12e(d) "A health care professional who has been the subject of an arrest arising out of an allegation of the possession, use, prescription for use or distribution of a controlled substance or legend drug or alcohol shall, not less than thirty days after such arrest, notify the Department of Public Health." Thus, the nurse who is arrested for DUI, as described above, has been subject to an arrest arising out of the alleged use of alcohol and must report.

However, when there is not an arrest, but perhaps a substance use issue or mental health concern can be more challenging of a determination. Under Connecticut General Statute Section 19a-12e(b), a healthcare professional or hospital shall file a petition [i.e. report to the Department] when such healthcare professional ... has any information that appears to show that a health care professional is, or may be, unable to practice his or her profession with reasonable skill or safety for any of the following reasons [including:] ...(B) emotional disorder or mental illness; (C) abuse or excessive use of drugs, including alcohol, narcotics or chemicals ..." (emphasis added)

There is a degree of subjectivity that is inherent in this reporting statute. A health care professional must have information that appears to that person to show that the affected health care professional is or may be unable to practice their professional with reasonable skill or safety. Perhaps sometimes this calculation is not difficult to make, such as the doctor whose substance abuse issue has escalated to the point of self-admission to a detox or residential rehabilitation program. However, there are certainly other situations that may be harder to determine whether reporting is required.

An important note is also the decision to whom to report is also implicated in this decision-making process for health care professionals. While the statutes default is to direct reports to the Department of Public Health, health care professionals who are subject to self-reporting should be aware of the "Assistance Program" that is created by law and, for some, may be a suitable alternative to the more public administrative licensure process. In Connecticut, this assistance program is Health Assistance InterVention Education Network ("HAVEN"). A report to HAVEN generally satisfies the reporting requirements under the statutes in Connecticut.

There are a number of considerations that go into whether to report or self-report, under what circumstances, when and to whom for health care professionals and license holders in Connecticut. Navigating these sometimes troubled waters is crucially important in protecting one's professional license and livelihood.

Whether to report or not can become a very important decision, and directly relates to what processes may or will follow. If you have questions about health professional licensure, reporting requirements and the licensure defense product in Connecticut, call Attorney Cody N. Guarnieri at (860) 522-3343 or email him at [email protected].