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Professionals seeking help for drugs

More medical practitioners are referring themselves to a health board that monitors a variety of mental health issues, said the program manager.

"People are referred to our program," said Monica Feider of the Health Professionals Services Program. "Most commonly people self-refer."

Her comments come in the wake of a Laporte Licensed Practical Nurse who is awaiting sentencing Feb. 4 in Cass County after pleading guilty to diverting a hospice patient's medications.

Lisa Joy Dykema, 37, was employed at Golden Living Center in Walker at the time. She pled guilty Jan. 7 to a 5th Degree Drug Possession charge.

Dykema is the second provider to come before a court in the past two years for stealing a patient's medications. Her complaint came via the Board of Nursing, which suspended her license pending successful completion of the HPSP program.

She is charged with signing for the delivery of a hospice patient's Dilaudid supply in May 2012. The 60 pills were later discovered missing from the patient's narcotics drawer, according to a complaint filed by the Minnesota Board of Nursing.

Dilaudid is a morphine-derivative medication used to relieve moderate to severe pain.

Dykema was charged in Cass County District Court. The charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail and/or a $10,000 fine upon conviction.

A former Menahga nurse was sentenced two years ago for taking the painkillers of a severely disabled Park Rapids boy.

Celeste Kruft, the former Menahga provider, also had her professional license suspended.

But most cases never see the light of public.

Program manager Monica Feider said although the program is seeing more professionals seeking treatment, she can't say with certainty if cases of chemical dependency are on the rise. More professionals are seeking help, she acknowledged.

"We are a program of the health licensing boards so we work with persons regulated" by the board, Feider said. "That includes the Boards of Nursing, Medical Practice, Pharmacy, Psychology, Social Work, the whole gamut. What we do is determine whether the health practitioner has an illness that warrants monitoring.

"Our mission is to enhance public safety in health care," Feider said.

"We do that by providing monitoring services to help professionals who have illnesses that could potentially impact their ability to practice."

The program works with providers who have chemical dependency disorders, psychiatric disorders and other medical disorders.

"We do not provide treatment," Feider said. "We monitor how they're managing their illness."

If the provider is working while undergoing treatment, each has to have a worksite monitor, Feider said. The employee must also have a treatment provider, which could entail a psychologist, substance abuse counselor, neurologist or other specialist.

Participants must provide updates on how they're managing their illnesses.

Some participants have been asked to refrain from practice if there's a concern "their illness is not stable, or if they've recently had an exacerbation," Feider said.

Sometimes practice restrictions are implemented. Most frequently that includes access to controlled substances if the participant has a chemical dependency issue.

People with substance disorders could have access to pharmacies limited and be subject to random urine toxicology screens.

It depends on the illness and the perceived risk to the public, Feider said.

The average length of monitoring is three years, but could be as short as one year or as long as five years, she said.

Boards that oversee licensure also refer cases, with discipline or without discipline.

Dykema's was a combination of both, according to her complaint.

She sought medical treatment while the board was taking action.

Kruft was ordered by the court to undergo treatment and may have had the same restrictions placed on her license. Unless a case comes to court for prosecution, most of those medical records are not a matter of public record.

Employers, colleagues and friends also report impaired professionals, Feider said.

"We cannot acknowledge anyone's participation in the program," Feider said. Dykema's treatment was a matter of public record contained in a court document.

The only way the public knows if a professional might be impaired is if there is a change in that provider's licensure.

"I think it's being reported more frequently," Feider said of the caseloads. "I don't know that there's an actual increase in the number."

Dykema was dismissed from her job of six years in May 2012. She appears to have no criminal record, according to a search of court databases. But she has been involved in three civil actions.

The Board of Nursing lists Dykema's license as both conditional and a stayed suspension. Kruft's license is listed as suspended.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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