Sending Out a Lifeline

By Karen Haller, PhD, RN
VP of Nursing and Patient Care Services,
Johns Hopkins Hospital

Hopkins Nursing has established the Nursing Professional Assistance Committee (NPAC) to support nurses with behavioral, cognitive, emotional, physical, or substance abuse problems that impede the performance and safe practice of nursing. Modeled after a long-standing program used by Hopkins Medicine, NPAC may be the first such nursing program in the country.

One out of every 10 nurses has a problem with substance abuse or alcohol. However, many of these nurses deny that they could be vulnerable to such disorders. Others may see themselves as caregivers rather than the recipients of care, and therefore do not come into treatment.

Nurses who are affected by substance abuse—or other problems that affect job performance such as depression, grief and loss, or difficult family relationships—pose a threat to those for whom they provide care; and they have neglected themselves as well. The nursing leadership at Hopkins is committed to patient safety, but is also committed to saving the careers of impaired nurses.

NPAC will assist nurses through the steps of consultation, evaluation, and referral. NPAC can provide early intervention and support to nurses struggling with alcohol, substance abuse, and other addictions; depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues; difficult relationships; grief and loss; adjustments to physical illness or disability; and stress. It can also support nurses who have successfully completed treatment to prevent relapse.

NPAC is a group of nurse peers with specialty training to serve as advocates for nurses who adhere to the recommended course of action. The face of NPAC is Laura Kress, assistant director of Nursing Practice, and a team of Nurse Clinician IIIs. Some, like Stephanie Forester, have expertise in the field of addictions nursing and have practiced 30 years in psychiatry. Others, like Suzanne Dunphy, who works on the General Clinical Research Unit in Hopkins’ Department of Medicine, volunteered because they have had personal experience working with impaired nurses and have seen good outcomes with proper intervention.

To save a career—yours or someone else’s—contact

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