The 27 Biggest Mistakes Nurses Make in Department of Health Investigations

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Following are the 27 biggest mistakes that we have seen nurses make over and over again that cause them the worst trouble in DOH investigations.

1. Failing to keep a current, valid address on file with the DOH (as required by law), which may seriously delay the receipt of the Uniform Complaint (notice of investigation), letters, and other important correspondence related to the investigation.

2. Contacting the DOH investigator and providing him/her an oral statement or oral
interview. (Note: There is no legal requirement to do this.)

3. Making a written statement in response to the “invitation” extended by the DOH
investigator to do so. (Note: There is no legal requirement to do this.)

4. Failing to carefully review the complaint to make sure it has been sent to the correct nurse. (Note: Check name and license number).

5. Failing to ascertain whether or not the investigation is on the “fast track” which may then result in an emergency suspension order (ESO) suspending the physician’s license until all proceedings are concluded. (Note: This will usually be the case if there are allegations regarding drug abuse, alcohol abuse, sexual contact with a patient, mental health issues, or failure to comply with IPN instructions.)

6. Providing a copy of the nurse’s curriculum vitae (CV) or resume to the investigator
because the investigator requested her to do so. (Note: There is no legal requirement to do this.)

7. Believing that if they “just explain it,” the investigation will be closed and the case
dropped.

8. Failing to submit a timely objection to a DOH subpoena when there are valid grounds to do so.

9. Failing to forward a complete copy of the patient medical record when subpoenaed by the DOH investigator as part of the investigation, when no objection is going to be filed. Will usually not apply to nurses bu may apply to ARNPs and nurse midwives.

10. Failing to keep an exact copy of any medical records, documents, letters or statements provided to the investigator.

11. Failing to submit correspondence and documents via certified mail, return receipt
requested, so that you have proof of mailing and proof of receipt.

12. Believing that the investigator has knowledge or experience in hospital procedures, nursing procedures or the health care matters or procedures being investigated.

13. Believing that the investigator is merely attempting to ascertain the truth of the matter and this will result in the matter being dismissed.

14. Failing to check to see if your nursing malpractice insurance carrier will pay the legal fees to defend in this investigation.

15. Talking to DOH investigators, staff or attorneys, in the mistaken belief that they are capable of doing so without providing information that can and will be used against them.

16. Believing that because they haven’t heard anything for six months or more, that the matter has “gone away.” The matter does not ever just go away.

17. Failing to submit a written request to the investigator at the beginning of the investigation for a copy of the complete investigation report and file and then following up with additional requests until it is received.

18. Failing to wisely use the time while the investigation is proceeding to interview witnesses, obtain witness statements, conduct research, obtain experts, and perform other tasks that may assist defending the case.

19. Failing to exercise the right of submitting documents, statements, and expert opinions to rebut the findings made in the investigation report before the case is submitted to the Probable Cause Panel of the Board of Nursing for a decision.

20. Taking legal advice from their colleagues or employers regarding what they should do (or not do) in defending themselves in the investigation.

21. Retaining “consultants” or other non-lawyer personnel to represent them.

22. Retaining criminal defense attorneys, trial attorneys or other attorneys to represent them in such matters when that attorney does not have experience in appearing before the Board of Nursing in such cases (always ask the attorney how many time she or she has actually appeared before the Board of Nursing.)

23. Believing that the case is indefensible so there is no reason to even try to have it dismissed by the Probable Cause Panel. The case is usually defensible.

24. Attempting to defend themselves.

25. Believing that because they know someone on the Board of Nursing, with the Department of Health or a state legislator, that influence can be exerted to have the case dismissed.

25. Communicating with the Department of Health about the pending case.

27. Failing to immediately retain the services of a health care attorney who is experienced in such matters to represent them, to communicate with the DOH investigator for them, and to prepare and submit materials to the Probable Cause Panel.

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

Important Tips to Remember if You are Being Investigated by the Department of Health

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

It is extremely important that you remember the following tips so that you are not intimidated into making any remark or statement that may later be used against you:

1. DOH licensure investigations are considered to be penal (criminal) in nature.  Therefore, you have all of the same constitutional rights you do in criminal cases.

2. You cannot be required by anyone to make any statement to the DOH Investigator or to your supervisor relating the investigation.  No action of any type can be taken against you for refusal to speak with or make a statement to the investigator.

3. Any statement, no matter how insignificant it seems, can and will be used against you by the DOH.  For example, just agreeing or stating that you were working in a certain place on a certain day can be used to prove this fact in a later hearing.  The state may not be able to produce witnesses or evidence to prove this against you, if you do not admit it.  If you do admit it or state it, orally or in writing, then this is all the proof that is required in any hearing.

4. Do not mail the investigator a copy of your resume or any statement or documents of any kind.  This can be used against you.  (See #3 immediately above.)

5. If approached in person by an investigator tell the investigator you cannot speak with him or her as you must consult with your attorney first.  Do not be intimidated or persuaded to make any statement or speak to the investigator any further.

6. It does not matter against whom the investigation was initiated.  You may be added to the investigation or have a separate investigation begun against you based on this investigation.

7. If you have nursing malpractice insurance, immediately notify your insurance company and request assignment of an attorney to your case.  Most nursing malpractice insurance also pays for DOH investigation defense.

8. If you do not have insurance, immediately attempt to locate and retain the services of a qualified, experienced health law attorney who has experience in handling Board of Nursing and Department of Healthy cases.  Ask the attorney how many time she or she has appeared before the Board of Nursing in such cases.  Contact The Health Law Firm, the American Association of Nurse Attorneys (TAANA), the Florida Nurses Association (FNA), the American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA) or other similar professional organization if you are unable to locate one on the Internet.

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

Tag words: Department of Health, DOH, nurse, nursing, investigation, complaint, administrative complaint, administrative hearing, legal defense for nurses, nurse malpractice insurance, nursing law, nurse attorney, nursing license, nursing license defense

Settlement Reached in WellCare False Claims Case

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

WellCare Health Plans Inc.(WellCare) has reached a settlement in its False Claims Act case. WellCare will pay $137.5 million to the federal government and nine states to settle four lawsuits. The lawsuits alleged violations of the False Claims Act.

WellCare is based in Tampa, Florida. The company provides managed health care services for approximately 2.6 million Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries across the United States.

WellCare Allegedly Submitted False Claims to Medicare and Medicaid Programs.

The lawsuits accused WellCare of submitting false claims to Medicare and Medicaid programs. WellCare allegedly falsely inflated the amount it claimed to be spending on medical care. Allegedly, this was done in order to avoid returning money to Medicaid and other programs in various states, including the Florida Medicaid program and Florida Healthy Kids program. WellCare also allegedly knowingly retained overpayments it had received from Florida Medicaid for infant care. Furthermore, WellCare allegedly falsified data that misrepresented the medical conditions of patients and the treatments they received.

Settlement Requires WellCare to Pay the United States and Nine Individual States.

WellCare’s settlement requires the company to pay the United States and nine individual states $137.5 million. The nine states are Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, New York, and Ohio. The settlement also requires WellCare to pay an additional $35 million if the company is sold or experiences a change in control within three years of the agreement.

Whistleblowers Will Also Share in Settlement.

The four lawsuits against WellCare were filed by whistleblowers under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. The qui tam provisions allow individuals to file lawsuits on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery.

The whistleblower whose qui tam complaint initiated the government’s investigation will receive approximately $20.75 million. The other whistleblowers will share approximately $4.66 million and will also be entitled to receive an additional share of any contingency payment.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in False Claims Act Cases.

The Health Law Firm represents physicians, medical practices, pharmacists, pharmacies, and other health provider in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving government health programs (Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE). The Health Law Firm also represents health providers in False Claims Act cases.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Kutscher, Beth. “WellCare Agrees to Pay Over $137.5 Million in Settlement.” Modern Healthcare. (Apr. 3, 2012). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20120403/NEWS/304039975#ixzz1yAklA7ru?trk=tynt

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs. “Florida-Based WellCcare Health Plans Agrees to Pay $137.5 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations.” U.S. Department of Justice. (Apr. 3, 2012). From: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/April/12-civ-425.html

Voreacos, David. “WellCare to Pay $137.5 Million to Settle False Claims Case.” Bloomberg News. (Apr. 3, 2012). From: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-03/wellcare-to-pay-137-5-million-to-settle-false-claims-case-1-.html

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

ALFs Are Able to Terminate a Patient for Almost Any Reason in Florida

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Florida law and regulations currently allow an assisted living facility (ALF) to relocate or terminate a resident for almost any reason. However, the administrator must provide a 45-day notice and document the reason for termination or relocation.

Section 429.28(k), Florida Statutes (2011), states that an ALF resident must receive:

At least 45 days’ notice of relocation or termination of residency from the facility unless, for medical reasons, the resident is certified by a physician to require an emergency relocation to a facility providing a more skilled level of care or the resident engages in a pattern of conduct that is harmful or offensive to other residents. In the case of a resident who has been adjudicated mentally incapacitated, the guardian shall be given at least 45 days’ notice of a nonemergency relocation or residency termination. Reasons for relocation shall be set forth in writing. In order for a facility to terminate the residency of an individual without notice as provided herein, the facility shall show good cause in a court of competent jurisdiction.

A reason for termination or relocation can be broad. Even a statement such as “the patient isn’t happy here,” may suffice, as long as a reason is given.

To view Chapter 429, Florida Statutes, which details Florida law relating to assisted living facilities, click here.

In Florida, assisted living facilities are licensed and regulated by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).

Although there have been consumer complaints and lobbying to change the law, at the present time the ALF is at liberty to do this. No hearing or other rights are required by law.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Assisted Living Facility Cases.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent assisted living facilities (ALFs) and ALF employees in a number of different matters including incorporation, preparing contracts, defending the facility against malpractice claims, licensing and regulatory matters, administrative hearings, and routine legal advice.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Crochet, Jim. “ALF Residents Lack Protection.” Miami Herald. (April 2, 2012). From:
http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/04/02/2723745/alf-residents-lack-protection.html

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

Nurse Practitioner Arrested in New York Crackdown on Prescription Drug Abuse

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

A New York law enforcement crackdown on prescription drug abuse has resulted in the arrests of 98 people. Among those charged are a nurse practitioner and two doctors.

Brooklyn federal prosecutors joined with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), district attorney’s offices, and local law enforcement agencies, to carry out a series of raids that began June 5, 2012 and resulted in the arrests.

To view the DEA’s press release concerning the raid, click here.

Doctors Accused of Overprescribing.

One of the doctors is accused of conspiring to distribute oxycodone to patients that were not legitimate. Allegedly, the doctor surrendered his DEA registration. This terminated his authority to prescribe controlled substances such as oxycodone. However, he allegedly attempted to use other health care practitioners to continue to prescribe drugs, which the government contends is illegal.

Another doctor involved in the crackdown is charged with illegal distribution of oxycodone. During the execution of a federal search warrant at his offices on March 1, 2012, the doctor voluntarily surrendered his DEA registration. However, he allegedly continued to issue prescriptions to those whom he knew were not legitimate patients.

We continually warn against “voluntarily relinquishing” DEA registrations or medical licenses with any investigation pending as this is treated the same as a revocation in most cases. For an article we have written on this, click here.

Florida Has Experienced Similar Prescription Drug Abuse Crackdowns.

Beginning about two years ago, Florida health providers involved in narcotics precribing became routine targets for law enforcement. This was part of a concerted effort by state and federal officials to crackdown on “pill mill” operations. Regulations increased. Lawmakers enacted severe penalties for doctors and other health professionals accused of over-prescribing. Most physicians were banned from dispensing drugs in their offices. The governor created a Florida drug “strike force” with a mission to eliminate any pain clinics that were found to be breaking the law. The Florida Surgeon General and the Board of Medicine made announcements about the “crackdown” on “over-prescribing.”

Since the implementation of the new pain management and prescribing laws, the Florida strike force has made thousands of arrests and seized millions of pills of narcotics. This has resulted in serious concerns by those in the pain management profession.

Law Enforcement will Continue to Pursue Physicians, Pharmacists, Nurses and Other Health Providers.

The recent raid in New York and ongoing actions in Florida demonstrate that law enforcement will continue to pursue health professionals who prescribe large amounts of narcotics.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Overprescribing Charges and DEA Cases.

The Health Law Firm represents pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Allen, Jonathon. “Doctors Arrested in New York Prescription Drug Crackdown.” Reuters. (June 7, 2012). From
http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/06/06/usa-crime-painkillers-idINL1E8H6E3J20120606

CBS News. “98 Arrested in NY Prescription Drug Sweep.” CBS News. (June 6, 2012). From
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57448268/dozens-arrested-in-ny-prescription-drug-bust/

McKenzie-Mulvey, Erin. “U.S. Attorney Lynch, District Attorneys, DEA, Other Law Enforcement Announce Prescription Drug Initiative.” Drug Enforcement Administration. (June 7, 2012). Press Release. From:
http://www.justice.gov/dea/pubs/states/newsrel/2012/nyc060712a.html

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

Adverse Consequences of Discipline Against Your Nursing License

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

If the Florida Department of Health (DOH) takes discipline against your Florida nursing license, this will have many significant consequences.

Investigation and Discipline of Other State Licenses.

The discipline will be reported to every other state in which you have a license and similar investigations will be opened by those states.

Many states also have laws similar to those of Florida which require you to report discipline yourself to the other state in which you are licensed. Sometimes this is very short, 15 or 30 days, for example. Check the other state’s laws to be sure.

Discipline Against Other Types of Licenses.

If you have other types of health professional licenses, such as a massage therapist (LMT) license, emergency medical technician (EMT) license, mental health counselor license (LMHC), advance registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) license, acupuncture physician (A.P.) license, etc., it is most likely that an investigation will be opened against the other license. This may result in discipline against your other license.

Discipline Will be Reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank.

Additionally, any discipline against your Florida nursing license will be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), as well as other reporting organizations. You may also face action to exclude you from the Medicare Program by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). If this occurs, it will be virtually impossible for you to get a job anywhere, especially in a hospital or facility.

Possible Loss of Certification.

In addition, if you are certified in a specialty, your certification organization may revoke or not renew your certification. It may also have rules requiring you to report disciplinary action.

Loss of Employment Opportunities.

Many health facilities, insurers, hospitals and other employers have policies against hiring nursing professionals with discipline on their licenses. Regardless of what an employer or supervisor might orally tell you, company policy, whether formal (written) or informal, may cause you to be terminated as an employee.

Buy Insurance to Cover License Investigation Legal Defense Expenses: It’s Cheap.

Most nursing malpractice insurance policies are very inexpensive and provide excellent coverage. Most contain insurance coverage that will pay for an attorney and other legal defense expenses if you are being investigated or charged with a licensure offense. Buy this. You should have at least $25,000 in coverage for such investigations and administrative proceedings. $50,000 in coverage would be better, even if you must pay extra or buy additional coverage.

If you are innocent of the charges alleged against you, a fully contested formal administrative hearing (trial) could easily cost $50,000. If you can’t afford to pay this amount yourself, you may have to give up your rights to proof of your innocence or guilt. Buy insurance to cover such unfortunate circumstances.

Obtain an Experienced Health Law Attorney Immediately After Receiving Any Notification of an Investigation from the Department of Health.

If the DOH is investigating you, you will receive a letter stating that an investigation has been opened by the DOH for discipline against your license. Do not speak with or make any statement to any DOH investigator (for more on this, see our previous blog post). Instead, immediately obtain an experienced health law attorney to represent you throughout the investigation and disciplinary proceedings.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Board of Nursing Cases.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses in Department of Health Investigations, before the Board of Nursing, in appearances before the Board of Nursing in licensing matters, and in administrative hearings.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

Florida HB 0653 Signed Into Law; Effective 2/1/2012

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The Florida Legislature unanimously passed HB 653 which relaxes some of the draconian exclusions enacted under SB 1986, which went into effect on July 1, 2009. SB 1986, which added provisions to Chapter 456, Florida Statutes, among others, prevented numerous healthcare providers from obtaining or renewing licenses based on prior criminal convictions, which could have occurred decades earlier.

HB 653 has been passed unanimously by the Florida Legislature and has been signed by the Governor to be effective July 1, 2012. It has been signed into law as Chapter 2012-64, Florida Laws and amends Section 456.0635(5), Florida Statutes (2012).

Under HB 653, the professional boards within the Department of Health (such as the Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing, Board of Psychology, Board of Massage Therapy, etc.) now will, if signed by the Governor, only prohibit the renewal or granting of a health professional’s license, certificate or registration, if the individual:

1. Has been convicted of, or entered a plea of guilty or no contest to, regardless of adjudication, a felony under Chapters 409 (Medicaid offenses), 817 (theft or fraud) or 893 (drug offenses), Florida Statutes, or similar laws in other jurisdictions, unless the individual successfully completed a drug court program for the felony and provides proof that the plea was withdrawn or the charges were dismissed, or unless the sentence and any related period of probation for such conviction or plea ended:

- For first and second degree felonies, more than fifteen (15) years before the date of application;

- For third degree felonies, more than ten (10) years before the date of application, except for third degree felonies under Section 893.13(6)(a), Florida Statutes; and

- For third degree felonies under Section 893.13(6)(a), Florida Statutes, more than five (5) years before the date of application.

2. Has been convicted of, or entered a plea of guilty or no contest to, regardless of adjudication, a felony under 21 U.S.C. Sections 801-970 or 42 U.S.C. Sections 1395-1396 (federal Medicare & Medicaid offenses), unless the sentence and any subsequent period of probation for such convictions or plea ended more than fifteen (15) years before the date of application; or

3. Is listed on the OIG’s list of excluded individuals and entities.

This new legislation has the effect of reducing the period of time a health professional may be prohibited from holding a license because of a conviction for one of the enumerated felonies. Under the current law, there is a fifteen (15) year prohibition for all enumerated offenses. The new legislation, if signed, will reduce the period to as little as five (5) years for drug offenses.

However, it also broadens the reach of the current Florida law by including, for the first time, convictions under “similar laws in other jurisdictions.” This may now “catch” many to whom the Florida law did not previously apply.

HB 653 also allows individuals previously denied renewals under SB 1986 who at are now eligible for renewal to obtain a license without retaking and passing their examinations.

The latter requirement above, number 3, may present a “catch 22″ for many health professionals. Usually, if a licensed health professional is convicted of a felony, loses his/her license or is denied renewal of a health professional’s license, this is reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). The NPDB now includes reports previously made to the Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank (HIPDB). If this occurs, in most cases the Office of Inspector General (OIG) commences action to exclude the professional from the Medicare Program. This automatically places the health provider’s name on the OIG’s List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE). Therefore, most licensed health professionals, even if they are no longer prohibited from holding a license under numbers 1 and 2 above, may still be prohibited because of requirement number 3 above.

Doubtless, this lacuna (gap) in this legislation will require additional corrective legislation in the future.

To view a summary of HB 653, click here.

To view the Bill Analysis of HB 653 from the Health and Human Services Quality Subcommittee, click here.

To view the Bill Analysis of HB 653 from the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee, click here.

To view the Bill Analysis of HB 653 from the Health and Human Services Committee, click here.

About the Author:  George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.