The Texas Board of Nursing has recently started offering a new type of agreed order which allows, with some significant reservations, nurses to avoid a permanent disciplinary mark on their record. Pursuant to the Legislature's mandate that the Board administer a pilot program to study the feasibility of deferred disciplinary actions, the BON has enacted rules governing this program and outlining what type of cases are eligible for the new deferred disciplinary order. For those interested, the enacting statute is located at Section 301.1607 of the Nursing Practice Act and the governing rule is found at Title 22, Section 213.34 of the Texas Administrative Code. A nurse who receives a deferred disciplinary order can have the order and original complaint dismissed and removed from their licensure record with the Board of Nursing if they successfully complete the terms of the order and receive no further disciplinary actions within the next five years. At the end of the five year period the deferred order is effectively sealed and any record of its existence is removed from the Board's website. Additionally, this disciplinary action is then deemed confidential and is not subject to disclosure to either the public or a nurse's employer. There are significant limitations to these confidentiality protections. First, prior to the five year mark, the deferred disciplinary order is completely public and will appear in both the Board's Newsletter and on the nurse's online licensure page. Second, as with any Board order, the BON is required to file a report with the Healthcare Integrity Protections Data Bank (HIPDB). As this is a creation of Congress, it is subject to federal law and does not recognize confidentiality protections created at the state level. This means that a record of the disciplinary action taken against the nurse will stay in HIPDB indefinitely and remain accessible to employers regardless of its erasure in Texas. Eligibility for a deferred disciplinary order is restricted to those cases which can be resolved through either a Warning with Stipulations or less severe order. Matters normally disposed of through a Reprimand, Probated Suspension, Enforced Suspension, or Revocation are not eligible for a deferred disciplinary action. Furthermore cases involving criminal or sexual misconduct, chemical dependency or substance abuse, intentional acts, falsification, or deception are likewise not eligible for the pilot program. The program is designed to apply to nurses whose cases show a lack of situational awareness or a knowledge or practice deficit. Finally, nurses with a prior disciplinary history with the Board cannot receive a deferred disciplinary order. Its limitations aside, the deferred discipline pilot program is a welcome development and should prove beneficial in resolving marginal cases involving minor violations of the Nursing Practice Act. A nurse with an active case before the Board of Nursing curious about whether they may be eligible for a deferred disciplinary order should contact an attorney experienced in administrative law and in representing clients before the BON.
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