STORIES
May 4, 2020

Nurse Practitioner Turned Attorney Fights For Nurses on The Frontlines of COVID-19

Lawyer talking on phone while sitting in chair in a lobby

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, and nurses continue to fight, many nurses fear the profession, in which they've dedicated blood, sweat, and tears is turning on them. Lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), reprimanded for advocating for themselves and patients and being threatened with the possibility of losing their lives, licenses, and livelihood has many nurses questioning where they legally stand and if they are protected. 

Joe A. Flores JD, APRN, FNP-BC, CCRN--a nurse turned attorney-- is on the frontlines in a different way. He uses his nursing education and law degree to advocate and fight for nurses. Who's better than one of us?

PW: Tell us about your nursing journey and why you chose nursing?

JF: I started out working in high school as a nurse's aide and an orderly. I was president of my Health Occupations Students of America organization. My mother was a nurse. By the time I graduated high school, she had completed RN school the same week. We later went ahead to  BSN school together, where I met my wife. My brother is also an RN who started in his twenties. It's a family affair. Everybody is in health care, and I don't regret a day of it.

PW: Why did you decide to pursue a law degree?

JF: I began reviewing cases for lawyers, and I found the work fascinating. Like many nurses, I also had a great interest in law. The natural progression, as I reviewed cases and was an expert witness, was to go to law school. I was very fortunate to have some law colleagues who inspired me.

PW: Tell us about the transition from nurse to nurse attorney.

JF: I was working out of my apartment, and also I was working in the ICU. Then I became a Nurse Practitioner and was a legal nurse consultant (LNC). My LNC career put me through NP and law school.

PW: Since the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses have been experiencing difficult times:

  • Forced to work with insufficient PPE
  • No PPE 
  • Being fired or reprimanded for wearing their own PPE
  • Forced to work unsafe assignments

What's your take on this? 

JF: Pursuant to a letter that I wrote to the New York Times, we are being forced to work like soldiers without armor. You wouldn't put somebody into a war without a weapon or without armor to protect themselves. For too long, the administrators, HMOs, and management have run the hospital and health care when it should be doctors and nurses behind the wheel. We all need to stand up and fight for our rights.

PW: As a nurse and attorney, what kinds of legal situations have nurses come to you about?

JF: I handle everything from the opioid crisis to diversion, to nurses getting in trouble with civil and criminal, and employment law. I generally advise nurses in my state on Board cases. 

I also handle:

  • Nationwide whistleblower cases
  • Wrongful termination

Anywhere where medicine and the law overlap is my expertise. 

PW: Legally, what should nurses do to prepare for and protect themselves during this time?

JF:  

  • Document everything if you are being forced to take care of patients without the proper PPE.
  • Be prepared to make complaints with the appropriate controlling state and governmental entities. 
  • Notify your employer, your HHR - document, document, document - just like in nursing. If you don't document, it's not done—same thing with your rights. 

PW: Any advice for nurses who are considering not taking assignments if they get to work and have no PPE or if they feel an assignment is unsafe?

 JF: 

  • Consult the employment law lawyer of your choice in your area.
  • Make sure you document why you are declining the assignment. 
  • Be prepared also to consider Safe Harbor issues and when to invoke them.
  • Know your rights and consult an attorney of your choice in your area.

PW: How can nurses contact you?

JF:  Nurses can contact me 24 hours a day at 361-887-8670 or [email protected]

 

Portia Wofford is a nurse, copywriter, content strategist, and nurse consultant. Chosen as a brand ambassador or collaborative partner for various organizations, Wofford strives to empower nurses by offering nurses resources for development--while helping healthcare organizations and entrepreneurs create engaging content that connects and converts. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest. 

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