The case has prompted a closer look from legislators, some of whom are drafting bills aimed at combating drug diversion, improving communication among hospitals and preventing technicians from gaining new employment after a drug-related episode.
Copeland, for instance, is the sponsor of two such bills originally filed by Rep. Lee Quandt (R-Exeter), who lost his seat in the November election. The first would create a central board of registration for healthcare workers who are not already licensed or registered with the state. The registry would include information about founded allegations and whether a registrant's status was active, suspended or revoked, he said.
“(Human resource) departments at these hospitals couldn't speak honestly about this lab tech for fear of being sued,” Copeland said. “We can't change what HR does, but we can create a public document that will provide hospitals with some information.”
The second New Hampshire bill would institute a policy of random, at-work drug testing of hospital employees. Hospitals would rely on Social Security numbers for random testing, but employees who appear intoxicated could also be singled out. That bill has already met with some resistance from hospitals, who would be charged with paying for the tests, Copeland said.
Steve Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said the group has not taken a stance yet on drug testing, creation of a statewide registry or other solutions that have come up for discussion. The NHHA has formed a steering committee that includes clinicians, hospital officials, risk management professionals and leaders from the state's medical society and boards of medicine, pharmacy and nursing, with the goal of evaluating potential strategies and working alongside lawmakers, he said.
“We're not at a point to identify with any one perspective yet,” Ahnen said. “Whatever approach we take, we want to make sure it's feasible in the context of patient care and will have the effect that we want.”
Both bills are in “their infancy,” with many steps to go before passage is a possibility, Copeland said. Still, he predicts one or both of them could conceivably make it to the governor's desk in 2013.
“There's an obvious hole since this is just one of 50 states, but we're hoping the federal government will pick up on what we're doing and mirror it,” Copeland said. “Once the legislation is properly written and ready to go to committee, I'm going to forward it to our two senators and two congresswomen. They can see if it has any traction at the federal level.”