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Can a director of nursing at a home healthcare agency be charged with patient abandonment if they resign on the spot?

Wednesday November 14, 2012
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Dear Nancy,

Can a director of nursing at a home healthcare agency be charged with patient abandonment if they resign on the spot?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Michelle,

What constitutes patient abandonment in your state is probably reviewable by reading your nurse practice act and its rules. Many nurse practice acts specifically define "patient abandonment" or describe situations in which the nurse may be investigated for it under the act.

Also, you may want to review your documents governing your role as the DON at the facility. It may discuss what would happen should a "resignation on the spot" take place, including being reported to the state board of nursing.

If a DON would find it necessary to "resign on the spot," he or she would, at a minimum, need to contact the owner of the agency and alert him or her to the decision to resign immediately. This would ensure that the owner is aware of the decision and can make provisions for someone to act as the DON until another DON is hired. If there were an assistant DON, for example, he or she would probably be required to step in until a replacement is found. In addition to the need to notify the owner about such a decision, the discussion may lead to changes that need to be made at the agency, and made as quickly as possible, so that you might remain as the DON.

The important thing to consider in a "resignation on the spot" is what danger or dangers you are placing the agency's patients in and where the nurses at the agency will be able to obtain direction for the clinical or other issues that come up after you resign. A better approach would be to let the owner know you are giving whatever notice is required for you to resign — e.g., two weeks — and then make arrangements to leave at that time. This allows the owner and your nursing staff to adjust to your leaving and allows you to exit in a professional manner.

Keep in mind if you have a contract of employment, and that contract is for a specific period of time (e.g., two years), resigning before that time would probably be defined as a breach of the contract, which may cost you, in terms of what you will be required to give up due to the breach (e.g., bonuses for the year, contribution to your retirement plan).

It might be wise for you to consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who can advise you on how best to exit this agency with your head held high and without legal jeopardy.


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.