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What can an RN do after losing his or her job when a patient falsely accuses him or her of abuse?

Monday March 17, 2014
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Dear Nancy,

I just had a patient falsely accuse me of saying something "abusive.” The company did a so-called investigation; I was terminated and reported to the state. When I asked the DON if this man had any witness statements to back this up, I was told that he didn't but that he was alert and oriented. They took his story over mine even though this patient has a history of making false accusations in the past. There is no paper trail of his previous accusations. This man also had a motive to get me in trouble because he was mad that I told him and some other patients to take their loud conversation away from the nurse’s station. This is not only my job on the line, but my license and my livelihood.


Dear Nancy replies:

Dear Salina,

You are in a difficult situation because there is little documentation about this patient's prior behavior. Morever, since you have been reported to a state agency (you did not specify, but it is probably the state board of nursing), you need to obtain help in defending you against this allegation.

You also did not indicate whether you received written documentation of the investigation the facility did about this complaint. This would be important to obtain and also evaluate. Was it a complete investigation? Was it fair and unbiased? Does the investigation results contain any information that might be helpful to you?

You probably will have to retain a nurse attorney or other attorney in your state to look into the investigation and also represent you before the state board of nursing. An allegation of being abusive to a patient is not taken lightly.

In preparing for your meeting with your attorney, sit down and journal what happened with this patient, when, who was around (if anyone and other details that you can recall. Also, list the prior problems with this patient that you mentioned in your letter. You should prepare this information as soon as possible and select your attorney soon as well.


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.