Many Voluntary Referrals to Michigan's Health Professional Recovery Program Result in Disciplinary Action
Wachler & Associates, P.C.
Data provided by the Michigan Health Professional Recovery Program (“HPRP”) indicates that nearly one-third of all health professionals that have voluntarily sought treatment through HPRP have been subsequently reported by that recovery program to the State of Michigan Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (“LARA”) for disciplinary action. Health professionals struggling with substance abuse should immediately seek treatment. However, this startling data regarding the number of voluntary referrals to HPRP that result in disciplinary action suggests that this recovery program may not be the right choice for all health professionals.
Michigan’s HPRP was established to help health professionals struggling with substance abuse and to provide them with access to confidential treatment while avoiding disciplinary action. Health professionals can be referred to the recovery program by a “regulatory” referral or a “non-regulatory” referral. A regulatory referral results from disciplinary action by a licensing board. These referrals are mandatory and not confidential. A non-regulatory referral, on the other hand, is voluntary and the result of a decision to self-report to HPRP. For these referrals, as long as the health professional meets HPRP program requirements, this information is not given to LARA and participation remains confidential.
As the data provided by HPRP demonstrates, there is no assurance that voluntarily seeking treatment will not result in disciplinary action. While a voluntary referral to HPRP is initially confidential, if the health professional fails to comply with the requirements of the intake process, or does not comply with the requirements of their monitoring agreement, the case will be closed as non-compliant and reported to LARA.
After self-reporting, HPRP will send a health professional to an evaluator to determine if they suffer from impairment. If the evaluator believes the health professional is unsafe to practice they may recommend that they not return to work until they are deemed safe to practice. If the health professional fails to agree to this recommendation, this finding will be reported to LARA for disciplinary action. These HPRP evaluations can be invasive and often include an extensive review of previous medical records. As a result, even in cases where the health professional decides that they no longer wish to submit to an evaluation, once a release of medical records is signed during the intake process the case can be reported to LARA if an evaluator believes the records released indicate that the health professional is unsafe to practice.
Once an evaluation is complete health professionals can be reported to LARA if they fail to comply with the recommendations. This is true regardless of the level of care recommended or financial costs associated. As such, if an evaluator recommends extended in-patient treatment and the health professional cannot complete the recommendation due to time or cost, they will be considered non-compliant and face disciplinary action. In addition, once a health professional signs a monitoring agreement they can be reported to LARA if they fail to comply with any monitoring provision included in that agreement. Monitoring agreements typically last for 3 years and consist of a rigorous program of counseling, drug testing and monitoring. If a health professional fails to comply with any of these requirements, the case will be closed as non-compliant and reported to LARA.
The HPRP program has been lifesaving for many health professionals. However, a program that defaults to discipline and sanctions may serve to deter health professionals from seeking treatment. First and foremost, health professionals struggling with addiction and substance abuse should immediately seek treatment. After making that decision, they may want to consult an attorney specializing in healthcare licensing to help ensure that their rights are protected while still making sure they get the necessary help.