For the past few years, healthcare professionals have faced unprecedented challenges, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent survey revealed that one of the top drivers for nurses leaving their current positions was the emotional toll of the job. Conditions such as understaffing can lead to additional stress for physicians and other healthcare professionals, and Arizona currently ranks in the top five states in the country experiencing the most severe healthcare staffing shortages.
In light of the struggles our healthcare professionals currently face, the Arizona legislature created a program allowing non-profits to provide additional confidential resources to support health professionals’ well-being. Arizona’s House Committee on Health and Human Services recognized that many physicians are struggling with burnout, and Representative Amish Shah sponsored a bill creating the Health Professional Wellness Programs (“HPWP”). Representative Shah sought to protect the confidentiality of physicians seeking assistance and to address the stigma associated with mental health issues. However, the ability to preserve confidentiality was limited by existing laws.
Health professionals who wish to seek services through an HPWP (“Participants”) will be able to receive mental and behavioral health services from providers who will practice through the HPWPs (“Providers”).
- What are Health Professional Wellness Programs?
The HPWPs will be run by 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(6) non-profits that operate throughout the State of Arizona. These non-profits will be able to establish programs designed to help Participants cope with mental health issues, substance abuse, and career fatigue.
- Who may participate in a Health Professional Wellness Program?
Any health professional who is licensed by the Arizona State Board of Nursing, the Arizona Medical Board, or the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners in Medicine and Surgery may participate in a HPWP.
- Is participation in a HPWP confidential?
Subject to certain exceptions, a Participant’s participation in a HPWP is not subject to discovery in a lawsuit. Also, a Participant is not required to report that professional’s participation in a program to his or her licensing board.
There are three exceptions to the confidentiality of participation in a HPWP. First, a Provider must report the Participant to the Participant’s regulatory board if the Provider believes the Participant poses a threat of imminent harm. Second, a Provider must report a Participant to their regulatory board if the Provider believes the Participant is not able to practice safely. Finally, participation in a HPWP does not excuse the obligation to self-report criminal or unprofessional conduct to the Participant’s regulatory board.
- What types of Services are available?
HPWPs will aid Participants in evaluating mental health issues, substance abuse, and career fatigue, and then provide counseling and other services designed to help the Participant navigate the situation. HPWPs will not offer substance impairment monitoring services.
- When will Health Professional Wellness Programs be established?
The law allowing non-profits to establish Health Professional Wellness Programs became effective on September 24, 2022. The Arizona Medical Association and the Arizona Nurses Association currently offer Health Professional Wellness Programs.
 See McKinsey & Company’s Surveyed nurses consider leaving direct patient care at elevated rates, available here, released February, 2022.
 See Becker’s Hospital Review’s 17 states where hospitals are experiencing workforce shortages, available here, released January, 2022.
 Governor Ducey signed House Bill 2429 (2022) on May 9, 2022, which enacted A.R.S. § 32-3229.01. The full text of HB 2429 is available here.
 Hearing on H.B. 2082, 2098, 2111, 2382 and 2429 before the H. Comm. On Health and Human Serv., 2022 Legi., 55th Sess. (Ariz. 2022) (statement of Rep. Amish Shah, Member, H. Comm. On Health and Human Serv.).
 A.R.S. § 32-3229.01(A).
 A.R.S. § 32-3229.01(B).
 A.R.S. § 32-3229.01(C).