As “health practitioners” under California law, registered nurses are mandated reporters. That means they have an obligation to report evidence or even suspicions that a child or adult is being abused or neglected to the appropriate authorities.
Nurses, like doctors and other medical professionals, generally have developed instincts that lead them to suspect that someone they are treating is the victim of abuse or neglect. They have training in how to document the signs they see and to get the suspected victim away from family and caregivers in order to talk with them alone.
Mandated reporting, however, involves only reporting the facts and providing evidence, like photos or x-rays. While a nurse’s instincts may lead them to gather evidence and ask questions, it’s up to the appropriate authorities to take it from there. Of course, if someone is in immediate danger, a health practitioner should always call 911. It should be noted that mandated reporting of suspected neglect or abuse doesn’t violate HIPAA regulations.
Criminal and BRN penalties
Failure to report a suspected case of abuse or neglect, or preventing someone else from reporting it, can be a criminal offense under California law. Further, according to California’s Board of Registered Nursing (BRN), it “is also considered unprofessional conduct and can result in disciplinary actions against the RN’s license by the BRN.”
Being a mandated reporter can sometimes come with risks to a person’s safety. Even when the name of a mandated reporter is withheld, it can be easy enough for an abuser to guess (either correctly or incorrectly) that a nurse was the one who reported their suspicions. It’s always crucial to notify your employer and potentially law enforcement if you have been threatened or otherwise are concerned for your safety.
The law takes the responsibilities of mandated reporters seriously. They are often able to get help for people who can’t get it for themselves. If you are facing disciplinary action, including the potential loss of your nursing license, for allegedly not fulfilling your obligations as a mandated reporter, it’s wise to seek legal guidance.