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As an RN, could I be held responsible for not reporting a risky situation in my neighborhood?

Wednesday August 8, 2012
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Question:

Dear Nancy,

I am an RN and have a neighbor who is routinely found sleeping in my front yard and wandering the neighborhood. This person has admitted to being an alcoholic. I have tried on a couple of occasions to convince this person to go to the hospital, but she refuses. If something were to happen to her, could I be held responsible legally, for not calling the police? It is well known in my neighborhood that I am an RN.

Sandra



Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Sandra,

Your concern about your neighbor is commendable. As an RN, you might have some obligation to intervene in this situation. You should read your nurse practice act carefully in order to determine if this is a reportable event because of your nurse licensee status.

There may be other state laws that might make this a reportable event, such as an alcohol and treatment act or something similar. You might want to consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who can advise you about specific state laws that might require reporting to a particular agency or hospital.

In addition to this person's alcoholism, her safety is at risk. Sleeping in one's yard and wandering the streets while under the influence subjects her to the possibility of an attack, being hit by a car or other risky situations. If there is no family member to contact, there may be a church or synagogue that can organize an intervention. Also, there may be a treatment facility for alcoholism or a community center with an outreach program.

Contacting the police is something you need to evaluate carefully. Most likely, what would occur is that she would be arrested for public intoxication, put in jail and who knows what would happen next. Would someone pay her bail? Would she be sentenced to a treatment program or more jail time? The attorney whom you consult can discuss this with you in greater detail.

Cordially,
Nancy




Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.