I-TEAM: Dozens of nurses licenses suspended, revoked in western Massachusetts

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Abandoning patients, working while impaired and showing up to work reeking of alcohol, these are just some of the reasons why dozens of nurses in western Massachusetts have their licenses suspended, revoked or voluntarily surrendered over the past year.

According to documents the I-Team obtained from the state, 30 nurses in our region had disciplinary action taken against their licenses, from September of 2017 to September of 2018. While some of the nurses made simple errors, other cases were much more serious.

One nurse told a patient to stop using her call light, and then took it away when she used it again.

Another nurse repeatedly struck a patient’s rear to discipline them, and a nurse in Springfield used excessive force against a patient, pushing their head against a wheelchair.

While a few cases involved abuse or neglect, a majority of them were related to an entirely different issue, drug addiction.

A Northampton nurse lost her license, after showing up for work high on drugs. Other nurses admitted to diverting drugs for their own use.

A nurse lost her job in Springfield, after Oxycodone pills disappeared during several of her shifts. She was then fired from two other hospitals for the exact same violation, before her license was finally revoked. 

If a nurse is caught diverting medication, they’re license is suspended until they complete a 5-year, intensive program, called SARP. They must complete the program, in order to get their license back.

The I-Team discovered 30 nurses from western Massachusetts have had their licenses suspended or revoked, between September of 2017 and 2018. A majority of those nurses were victims of substance use disorder.

Despite repeated requests, no healthcare facilities in western Massachusetts were willing to go on camera to talk about the issue of substance use disorder in the healthcare industry.

Heather Beattie, the senior director of Clinical Safety, Risk Management and Insurance for Baystate Health sent the I-Team the following statement: 


“The regulations of the Board of Registration in Nursing require reports to the Board in instances of nurse abuse of patients, practice of nursing while impaired, and diversion of controlled substances.  Reported incidents involving nurses at Baystate Health are reviewed by a standing committee that includes clinical practice nurses, nurse leaders, and nurse educators to determine whether there is an obligation to report to the Board.”   

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health also refused an on-camera interview, but sent us the following statement:

“The Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program (SARP) is a voluntary, confidential program designed to provide an alternative to discipline and a second chance to nurses who have acknowledged they have a substance misuse problem. The goal is to protect the health and safety of the public by establishing comprehensive safeguards to maintain professional nursing standards for participants while monitoring and supporting their ongoing recovery. Upon successful completion of this voluntary program, nurses are not required to disclose any past participation in SARP to their employers.”

DPH also sent us the following information about the state’s SARP program:

  • The Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program (SARP) is a voluntary, confidential, non-disciplinary approach to substance use disorder recovery among licensed nurses.  Established by M.G.L. c. 112, §80F, SARP is an abstinence-based program to assist nurses, whose competency has been impaired by the use of, or dependence on, alcohol and/or other drugs, to return to nursing practice. 
  • For licensees facing complaints relating to substance use disorders, including drug diversion and impaired practice, etc., the program serves as an alternative to discipline in resolving those complaints.
  • Nurses who admit they have a substance use disorder that has impaired their nursing practice, and voluntarily enter the program, also agree to re-enter into monitored nursing practice, as well as to participating in activities that aid in their disease recovery.
  • SARP nurses must complete random drug screenings and other supportive components for substantive substance use disorder recovery during the entirety of their participation in the program.

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