‘Knowledge is power’: URI alum’s website offers consultation, advice to nurses

Nursingcomplainthelp.com is go-to reference for licensing board complaints, legal issues

A nurse who immigrated from the Philippines and was the only foreign-born nurse in a central Texas hospital faced multiple discriminatory complaints that put her license in jeopardy.

Another nurse in a delivery room twice reported to administration a doctor who didn’t show up on time for a delivery, putting patients in danger. The doctor retaliated by filing a complaint against her. After two years, many negotiations and an expert report, the board agreed she had done nothing wrong.

Still another nurse who worked with a disgruntled former boyfriend faced false charges of writing prescriptions for controlled substances without a doctor’s orders.

These complaints against the nurses were false, and yet all three faced investigations from their state licensing boards and were put in jeopardy of losing their nursing license. In all cases, the complaints were dismissed and the nurses were able to continue their careers unfettered, thanks in part to URI College of Nursing alumna Joyce Stamp Lilly, a nurse-lawyer who offers a wealth of advice and information to help nurses navigate the complicated world of responding to investigations conducted by a state board of nursing.

“Anyone can file a complaint with the board, and if there’s a complaint, the board has to investigate,” said Lilly, who represents nurses and also runs websites to advise nurses in such situations. “It’s a terrible thing for a nurse to get a letter from the state board; it is devastating and very disheartening. The nurse has to respond to the board correctly and professionally, and sometimes nurses don’t know the process. Nurses need to have an avenue whereby they know what they have to do. That’s why, even if you have a lawyer, you have this website to help.”

Lilly has two websites — www.nurselawyer.com, where nurses can hire her as their attorney; and nursingcomplainthelp.com, a self-help consultation website that spells out exactly what nurses need to do if a complaint is filed against them. The website features videos that walk nurses through exactly what to expect when called before a state board. It contains downloadable responses to the board, downloadable character letters and more, so people can understand the process of responding to a state board investigation — no matter what state it is.

“You have to understand of the process. The rules may be slightly different from one state to the next, but the process is the same,” Lilly said. “The nurse must answer with a professional looking, well-written response, and nurses don’t always know how to word it properly, or what to include. This website is a culmination of all the experience I have had during years representing nurses. I always advise people to get legal counsel, but a lot of times nurses may not be able to spend the money; or they prefer to respond on their own. That’s why the website is important — it gives a great deal of information, and knowledge is power.”

There are myriad reasons a complaint could be filed against a nurse — a documentation error, some kind of treatment mistake, a medication error — and anyone can file a complaint, including a patient, patient’s family or even a coworker. Once a complaint is filed, states require a nurse to respond quickly, some within 20 days, even if she hasn’t received the records to review to defend herself. A nurse needs to know to request the documentation against her, and that she can request an extension to respond.

“The nurse has to go through the documents to see if there’s anything that helps in her response to the board, or, just as important, if there’s anything that could harm her,” Lilly said. “The board can come up with a new allegation if they look at the record and see something below standards, and they may send another letter. Some states might try to do a short investigation asking for a response without the nurse having the documents. The nurse needs to know to request them. That’s why this website is really, really helpful.”

Even more helpful is having a lawyer who is also a nurse, one who understands the culture of nursing and the daily demands placed on them. A nurse-lawyer understands how hospital staffing problems can lead to errors, and how nurses can get overwhelmed. They understand a nurse may have five other patients, or might be in a code, or the pharmacy may be backed up and medication might not be given at the right time through no fault of the nurse.

“You always should accept responsibility if you did something wrong, but you always should consider mitigating circumstances,” Lilly said. “I know what nurses are supposed to do. Non-nurses often don’t. So if possible, get a nurse-attorney. But if you cannot, at the very least, I advise they go to nursingcomplainthelp.com to get the information they need and see examples of real responses. They need to know the process.”

Lilly understands the process, having served as a registered nurse for several years after graduating from URI in 1975. She then became an attorney, focusing on personal injury and medical malpractice. Her biggest focus is representing nurses before the state board in Texas, where she practices in the city of Houston. While she is no longer licensed to practice law in Rhode Island, she is able to consult with nurses here and in any other state, assisting with their responses or refering them to a qualified attorney in their area.

For her dedication to health care and her years representing nurses, Lilly has been named one of 75 “Luminaries” to represent the College in celebration of its 75th anniversary. She also serves on the advisory committee to Dean Barbara Wolfe.

Her most important advice, however, is to nurses facing challenges to their careers. She offers a free consultation phone call, in addition to the information on her website, will review documentation and advise nurses even states in which she doesn’t practice. Ultimately, though, it is up to a nurse facing a complaint to use his or her best judgment to respond properly, and she needs the knowledge to do so.

“It’s important to remember that anyone can file a complaint, so just because you get a letter doesn’t mean you are a bad nurse,” Lilly said. “Ultimately, you are your best advocate, so you need to know what to do and how to best respond. It all sounds very complicated and stressful, and I understand that. That’s why the website is so helpful.”