West Virginia health professionals stay silent out of fear

WV Restore is a monitoring program that claims to provide guidance, support, and accountability to chemically dependent health care professionals, such as nurses, however many within the nursing community that have participated claim to have felt misled and are intimidated to speak out against the program out of fear of losing their jobs. 

Connie Whorton, the relative of a nurse in West Virginia, said her family member voluntarily went to rehab and was contacted by the nursing board during their time there.  

“The board told them that they were going to have to enter this program, WV Restore, and that it was going to require counseling visits, drug screenings, and a visit to a psychiatrist,” Whorton said. “It just really threw them for a loop that they were going to have to go through all this, so they did a bit of research on the program by looking on AllNurses.com and by talking to some people that had gone through it and discovered that it was much more extensive than they had led on.” 

Whorton said after her relative learned more about the program, she decided to call WV Restore personally and inquire about what it entails.  

“The program director that I spoke to basically told me how much it would cost to enter the program along with 1 to 2 drug screens per month,” Whorton said. 

Whorton said she was alarmed when she was informed that the program prohibits the use of prescribed controlled substances.  

“I said, ‘Oh my goodness, no Adderall? What if you have ADHD?’ and I was told that my relative would have to find something that is not a controlled substance despite trying other medications in the past and learning what works for them,” Whorton said. “I didn’t understand–doesn’t the doctor take precedence over the nursing board?” 

Depending on the amount of drug testing and counseling required, Whorton said sources reported that WV Restore would cost them up to $25,000 to $30,000 after the mandatory time spent in the program, which is typically 5 years. 

All drug tests required by WV Restore must be paid out of pocket by participants. 

“We were told that if we did not follow through with this and participate in the program once it is deemed necessary, that my loved one would be subject to consequences decided by the nursing board,” Whorton said. 

Whorton said other nurses that she has spoken to about WV Restore have told her they are afraid to self-report due to the financial burden and the rigidity of the program.  

“It’s sad that when a nurse has a problem, they feel like they are being punished rather than getting any kind of help,” Whorton said. “I wish they were more supportive of the nurses.” 

Robert Payne, a formerly licensed professional counselor, social worker and advanced drug and alcohol counselor emeritus, said he believes this program needs to be re-examined.  

“I think that having strictly just a monitoring program is not beneficial,” Payne said. “It is okay to have a monitoring program, and I understand the necessity of it. Especially when you’re dealing with a person’s qualifications to provide a service, you must make sure they are being safe to do that.” 

The official website for WV Restore does not claim to have an individualized approach when dealing with healthcare professionals needing their services. 

“I think it’s very important to acknowledge that each person needs to have their specific treatment needs addressed. If you put someone into a generic program, it’s like a shotgun approach that may find something that benefits them or may not,” Payne said. “Programs like this should be tailored to the individual as much as possible or at least make a strong attempt to do that in order to be effective.” 

Payne said an important component of treatment that is not being considered is the financial burden that is being placed upon participants of WV Restore. 

“Many of these nurses are unable to work, so the financial aspect of it is a big deal,” Payne said. “If they are losing their insurance, if they even have insurance, the cost of the program and not being able to obtain it is a problem.” 

Payne said the issue of stigma is a factor that plays a large role in mental health issues and substance use that may act as a barrier to healthcare professionals receiving the help they need. 

“We recognize that most people with substance use issues often have other issues that are probably mental health issues, and possibly other outside factors affecting them within their family life or financially,” Payne said. “If there is no network of resources for these folks, many times the treatment fails because not all those issues are being addressed effectively.” 

Payne said he feels that the prohibition of controlled substances while participating in WV Restore should be reconsidered. 

“In my experience working with psychiatrists in two hospitals in the state, I have observed that they try to maintain people on their medication even if it is a controlled substance if they need that medication,” Payne said.  

He said that he remembers instances in which the medication was monitored to assure that it was being taken as the doctor ordered. 

“I think that having a monitoring aspect of it is important just to make sure that people are not misusing their prescribed medication, but I think that the policy of not allowing nurses in the program to use any controlled substances is not helpful,” Payne said.  

He said that doing this can potentially take away something that might be very beneficial simply because there is an idea that all addictive substances should be prohibited. 

“From what I know, I think that WV Restore needs to be more flexible with how they allow treatment to occur. That does not mean that they are not monitoring correctly, but they do need to be more flexible and look at the cost of the program and how they might be able to help people,” Payne said.  

WV Restore was unavailable for comment at this time. 

Isabella Robinson can be contacted at [email protected]u