The VRP and the “Letter of Concern” — They Are Not Concerned!
I have written about thissue many times. I, though, continue my one attorney crusade against the PHMP improperly offering a drug and alcohol treatment-abstinence program to vulnerable licensees who neither suffer from drug or alcohol addiction nor are incapable of safely practicing their profession. By this I mean offering any professional enrollment in the Voluntary Recovery Program “VRP” whether or not they suffer from an addiction or impairment.
The VRP does this by targeting professionals charged for the first time with a DUI or other minor alcohol or drug related summary offenses. These professionals received the VRP “letter of concern” at a very vulnerable time. Especially nurses who must report criminal charges with in thirty (30) days of arrest, not conviction. However, first time DUI offenders are typically eligible for Pennsylvania’s ARD pre-trial diversion program. As such, there will be no conviction. Professionals receiving the “letter of concern” while the DUI prosecution is just starting are terrified of losing their license. Many unilaterally, without consultation of licensing counsel like me, go to the VRP assessment and then sign a PHMP consent agreement thinking it saves their license while the prosecution is pending. It only makes the problems worse.
The 2006 case Wittorf v. State Board of Nursing, 913 A.2d 956 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2006) is on point. Wittorf voluntarily entered the VRP to save his license after a first time DUI offense. (If he had competent counsel he would not have entered the VRP to start and his license would never have been affected.) Soon after, however, the rigors of the abstinence-based PNAP administered PHMP became clear. Work and life affected Wittorf’s ability to comply with every condition of the program. He sought to exit the program. Wittorf claimed he did not suffer from a drug or alcohol addiction that rendered him an impaired nurse. Wittorf presented numerous witnesses at the hearing supporting his lack of addiction and any professional impairment. Wittorf lost his petition to exit the VRP and have his license returned to non-probationary status.
Wittorf forgot he signed the standard PHMP agreement/contract and Board Consent Agreement. Each document contains admissions that the signatory is an alcoholic (or drug addict) and such impairs their ability to practice their professional safely. This the only legal fact upon which the Court needed to rely in denying Wittorf’s motion. By signing the agreements Wittorf (and every other licensee in the same position) stipulates to both their addiction and impairment when asking to voluntarily enter the VRP. One must do so to be eligible for the VRP. Its the worst thing to do.
Every VRP “letter of concern” includes the personal data information sheet and medical authorization releases. Do not sign any of these documents if you wish to retain your medical, nursing for other professional license. Do not go to the requested assessment as one is not legally required. If you are reading this blog or column, you should call me immediately.
If you are reading this blog after being charged with a DUI and compelled to go to a COAD (Council on Addictive Diseases) assessment, hire competent counsel to handle your licensing issue along with the DUI. This because typically the mandatory ARD DUI COAD assessors are the local PHMP referred VRP assessors. Once that assessor learns that DUI ARD applicant sitting in front of them is also a professional licensee – especially nurses and doctors – the assessment turns into a VRP assessment that I advise my clients to avoid. Being prepared for this assessment, similar to be prepared for the Mental and Physical Evaluations (see my other blogs int he archives), is just as important.
The only way I can fight against the unfair tactics of the VRP is by representing as many professionals as I can. These are trained but incompetent unlicensed case workers implements are highly structured regulatory process. They have no authority to deviate from any condition of the program.
The PHMP, PMP, VRP, PNAP case workers deal with these issues every day and have honed their trapping skills over the years. I read the same case workers names on every VRP and PHMP “letters of concern”. This the first time you have read this letter. You need experienced counsel who has honed his skills to battle these experienced case workers. Call me.