The 25 Biggest Mistakes Nurses Make After Being Notified of a Department of Health Complaint

By Lance Leider, J.D.

The investigation of a complaint which could lead to the revocation of a nurse’s license to practice and the assessment of tens of thousands of dollars in fines, usually starts with a simple letter from the Department of Health (DOH). This is a very serious legal matter, and it should be treated as such by the nurse who receives it. Yet, in many cases, attorneys are consulted by nurses after the entire investigation is over, and they have attempted to represent themselves throughout the case. Often, the mistakes that have been made severely compromise an attorney’s ability to achieve a favorable result for the nurse.

These are the 25 biggest mistakes we see in the nursing cases we are called upon to defend after a DOH investigation has been initiated:

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 nurse’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 PRN instructions.)

6. Providing a copy of the nurse’s curriculum vitae (CV) or resume to the investigator because the investigator requested them 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.

10. Delegating the task of providing a complete copy of the patient medical record to office staff, resulting in an incomplete or partial copy being provided.

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

12. Believing that the investigator has knowledge or experience in hospital procedures, medical 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 their medical malpractice insurance carrier will pay the legal fees to defend them 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 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 your licensing board for a decision.

20. Taking legal advice from their colleagues 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. Believing that the case is indefensible so there is no reason to even try to have it dismissed by the Probable Cause Panel.

23. Attempting to defend themselves.

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

25. 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.

Bonus Point: 26. Communicating with the Department of Health about the pending case.

Not every case will require submission of materials to the Probable Cause Panel after the investigation is received and reviewed. There will be a few where the allegations made are not “legally sufficient” and do not constitute an offense for which the nurse may be disciplined.

In other cases, an experienced health care attorney may be successful in obtaining a commitment from the DOH attorney to recommend a dismissal to the Probable Cause Panel. In other cases (usually the most serious ones), for tactical reasons, the experienced health care attorney may recommend that you waive your right to have the case submitted to the Probable Cause Panel and that you proceed directly to an administrative hearing. The key to a successful outcome in all of these cases is to obtain the assistance of a health care lawyer who is experienced in appearing before the Board of Medicine in such cases and does so on a regular basis.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Department of Health Investigations of Nurses.  

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to nurses and nurse practitioners in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.   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: Lance O. Leider, J.D. is an attorney with 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: Please Talk to an Attorney Before You Talk to an Investigator

By Lance Leider, J.D.

In Florida, You DO NOT Have to Speak to an Investigator!

Despite mailing out hundreds of thousands of postcards and letters to nurses throughout Florida, we continue to receive calls from new clients and from potential clients, after they have already spoken to and made critical harmful admissions against their own interests to investigators. In Florida, you do not have any duty to cooperate with any investigator who is investigating you. This extends to Department of Health (DOH) investigators (who are sometimes titled “Medical Quality Assurance Investigators” or “Medical Malpractice Investigators”), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, or criminal investigators of any type.

Nurses, Investigators are NOT on Your Side.

Let me state this as succinctly and clearly as possible. If you are being investigated, you will not be better off making a statement. You will not be better off explaining your side of the story. The investigator is not your friend. The investigator is not on your side. All you are doing is falling for a trick and helping the government to make a case against you.

Protecting Yourself and Your License.

You have a right under the U.S. Constitution to not make any statement that may be used against you. This is so important that in criminal cases government investigators are required to advise you of this by reciting to you your Miranda rights.

However, in cases where you might have your nursing license revoked the investigator is not required to advise you of your rights.

In a criminal case, there may be ways to have your statement thrown out. However, in a professional licensing case or other administrative case, it may be too late to avoid the damage. You may be the best witness the government has and you may be the only witness the government needs to prove ths case against you.

In the case where you could receive a $100 criminal fine, the investigators are required to read you your constitutional Miranda rights and to be sure that you understand them before you make a statement. However, in a case where you can lose your professional license, where you could lose your livelihood and ability to make a living, where you could lose everything you have worked so hard to obtain, they are not required to do this. You must protect yourself.

Many health professionals, when confronted by an investigator, who will usually call at a very inconvenient time (to catch you by surprise) and will usually flash a badge (to intimidate you), will refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the matter and will fall for the bait to “tell their side of the story.” This can be fatal to your defense and fatal to your license.

Do NOT Admit to Anything; What You Say May Ruin Your Defense.

In the absence of a statement by the suspect (in this case, let’s assume this is YOU), the government may have a very difficult time of proving that you have committed any offense. It may have other witnesses (who may not be around at the time of any hearing or trial). It may have a lot of physical evidence or documents. But it may be impossible for the government investigators to make any link between you and the evidence, unless you help the investigators do this. You would be surprised at how many nurses believe that they can just talk their way out of the situation; in reality, they are just giving evidence that is used to make the case against them.

Any evidence at all, just admitting that you were there, admitting that the documents are yours, admitting that the patient was yours, admitting that you worked at the clinic, admitting that you wrote the prescription, admitting that the property is yours, admitting that you were on duty at the time, admitting that you have taken a drug, admitting that you signed the form, can be a crucial piece of evidence that could not otherwise be proven without your own testimony.

Remember, this is the investigators’ job and profession. This is what they do full time, every day. And they are very good at it. They are 1,000 times better at getting you to admit the crucial elements of a disciplinary infraction than you are in “talking your way out of it.” They will not be convinced by any excuses you make. They do not have to be. They will not be the ones making the final decision against you. Theirs is the job of putting together the case against you. You will help them by talking to them, explaining why your decisions are correct, explaining why what you did is excusable, etc. It will not work. You will merely be giving them enough rope to hang you with.

Determining the Purpose of the Investigation.

Hint: If it is an “auditor,” “surveyor” or “investigator” from an agency or company with “integrity” or “program integrity” in its name, they are probably investigating you for “lack of integrity,” i.e., false claims or fraud.

Hint: If it is a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent (investigator) they are probably investigating you to prosecute you or to revoke your DEA registration for drug or prescribing violations.

Hint: If it is a Department of Health Quality Assurance Investigator or Medical Malpractice Investigator, they are probably only investigating possible disciplinary action against your license that could result in large administrative fines or revocation of your license.

Do Not Try to Talk Your Way Out; You Cannot Outsmart the Investigator.

Do not believe for a second that you are smarter than the investigator. Do not believe for a second that you will convince the investigator (or anyone else) that there is a legal or medical justification for what you did or what they allege. If it were as simple as that, then why would there be an investigation and why would you be the one being investigated?

Additionally, do not believe for a second that you can lie your way out of it, either. Remember, if the government cannot prove the basic offense that it is investigating against you, it may be able to prove that you have committed perjury or lied to an investigator. In the case of a federal official or a federal investigation, merely making a false statement (oral or written) to an investigator is a criminal act. This is what Martha Stewart and many others have served time for in federal prisons.

These investigators are lied to all the time. They are usually better at detecting lies than a polygraph expert is. Furthermore, in most cases, you will be the very last person to be interviewed. Therefore, they will already know just about everything that can be used against you. If your statement contradicts in any way what others have told them, they will know you are the one who is lying. However, knowing something or suspecting something does not mean it will be something that can be proven in court or in an administrative hearing.

Before Saying ANYTHING Be Sure to Consult an Attorney.

It is much better to make no statement at all. Blame it on your attorney. Tell the investigator that your attorney will kill you if you were to talk to the investigator without your attorney being there ahead of time. “Speak to my attorney.” “My attorney can help you, I can’t.”

All you have to do is state “I must talk to my lawyer before I say anything.” “I will have my lawyer contact you.” “I cannot say anything until I talk to my lawyer.” “I want a lawyer.”

If you are not the one being investigated, then there is no good reason why the investigator would want you to make a statement before you consulted with your attorney. What is the rush?

Then you must also avoid the old trick of the investigator telling you “If you don’t have anything to hide, why would you need a lawyer?” Please don’t fall for this trick, either. This is America. Smart people and rich people spend a lot of money on attorneys and other professionals to represent them and advise them. There is a good reason why they do this.

Far too often the nurse only calls us after he has given a statement. This is usually too late to avoid much of the damage that will have been be caused.

Everything above applies to oral statements or written statements. Do not make either. Contact a lawyer as soon as possible, preferably before making any statement, no matter how simple, defensive, self-serving or innocuous you may think it to be.

Think of this as an intelligence test. Are you smart enough to follow this guidance and avoid this type of mistake?

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Nurses.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to nurses and nurse practitioners in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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: Lance O. Leider, J.D. is an attorney with 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.

Preparing for a Deposition for Nurses

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

With the number of personal injury and healthcare-related lawsuits increasing each year, at some time in your professional career as a nurse, you will receive a subpoena requiring you to give an oral statement at a deposition. Having your deposition taken can be a stressful or even a scary experience. Following the few simple tips set forth in this chapter can make your deposition experience less stressful and hopefully relieve your feelings of anxiety.

Before the Deposition 

1. Be Prepared -You should prepare yourself for your deposition by familiarizing yourself with the chart or other medical records at issue in the lawsuit, unless your attorney instructs you otherwise. You should be prepared to answer general knowledge questions regarding the issues involved in the lawsuit. The examining attorney does not expect an in depth medical response; however, using some medical terminology may add to your credibility as a professional. Again, it is imperative that you realize your role in the case prior to deposition in order to assist in your preparation. If you have used certain medical terms in your nurse’s notes or medical record be sure you know exactly what they mean. If you used an abbreviation, be sure you know what it means.

2. Contact Your Attorney and Demand a Preparation Meeting – If you work in a hospital, you can probably expect the hospital’s attorney to conduct a predeposition conference to familiarize you with the plaintiff’s theory of the case when a hospital is being sued as an employer. Keep in mind that this attorney is not your attorney, but is your employer’s attorney; therefore, you may wish to retain a board certified healthcare attorney or a litigation attorney to be “on your side” for the deposition. If you are not contacted several weeks prior to your deposition regarding preparation for it, call your attorney and demand an appointment no later than one week prior to the deposition. This will give you time to meet with the attorney, learn about the issues involved in the suit, learn more about your role in the lawsuit, time to reschedule the meeting or have a follow-up meeting and time to relax before your deposition. Ask your attorney if he or she has a videotape of other depositions (from a different case) or a training videotape for you to watch. A training videotape can be particularly useful if you have never been deposed before. If your attorney does not conduct a pre-deposition conference with you, you are not receiving proper legal representation. Ask for a new attorney who has the time to properly prepare you for your deposition.

3. Ask If You Can Sit in on Other Depositions Before Yours – Although this may not be permitted in some cases, in many cases it will be. Consult with your attorney.

4. Do Not Discuss the Case With Others – Never discuss the case with others, unless your attorney is present or advises you it is ok to do this. If anyone tries to talk to you about the case, do not. If anyone asks you questions about the case, immediately advise them you have an attorney and that person should speak with your attorney.

5. Visit the Location of the Deposition – Unless the deposition will be held in your hospital or office, drive to the location where it will be held ahead of time and check out the parking situation. If you do this, you will not be rushed or late on the day of the deposition.

6. Pick Out Your Deposition Clothes – Pick out and prepare your deposition clothes prior to the deposition.

7. Obtain and Review Your Employer’s Medical Abbreviations List – If you work for a hospital, facility or group that has a “standard medical abbreviations list,” obtain it and review it. Check the records you wrote (after consulting with your attorney) to see if you used any incorrectly; if you did use an abbreviation incorrectly, be prepared to explain what you meant and why you used the abbreviation.

At the Deposition

1. Dress Professionally – As a general rule, unless your attorney advises you that it is okay to wear a nursing uniform, wear your best professional suit or “church clothes.” Regardless, be sure that your clothes are freshly cleaned and not in need of tailoring or repair. If in doubt, take what you plan to wear to your pre-deposition meeting with your attorney.

2. Do Not Be Intimidated – In some cases, an examining attorney will attempt to harass or intimidate a deponent during a deposition. If you have your own attorney present, she or he will attempt to curtail these types of tactics. If you begin to feel pressured, pause and take a breath before you begin your answer. Answers that are not thought out are the answers that the examining attorney will use to destroy your credibility as a witness.

3. Tell the Truth – When being deposed, you are under a sworn oath to tell the truth. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you give only truthful information to the deposing attorney. The truth is the easiest to remember and will help you deal with any psychological intimidation or other tactics that a hostile interrogating attorney might use. Harassment usually occurs when the attorney thinks that the witness is deliberately misstating or withholding relevant facts. Keeping your answers truthful may help reduce this type of behavior by the examining attorney.

4. Give Direct Answers – Give direct, straightforward responses without rambling or exaggerating and without volunteering information that was not requested. It is easy to be mislead into “telling all” by a friendly opposing attorney. Keep in mind that the deponent is only required to give knowledge that he or she personally has. If you do not know the answer to the question, you should state that you do not have personal knowledge of the information being asked. Remember, when an attorney for the other side is asking questions, the best answer is the shortest truthful answer. The best answer will usually be: “Yes,” “No,” “I don’t know,” or “I don’t recall.” If one of these answers applies, use it. Do not volunteer information. Additionally, do not guess the answer to the question. Similarly, do not state your opinion; give only facts of which you have personal knowledge. Keep your answers honest, straightforward and direct.

5. Listen Carefully – It is important that the deponent listen very carefully to the question asked by the attorney. Many times, attorneys do not prepare questions or rehearse questions in preparation for a deposition. As a result, some of the questions asked by the deposing attorney may be poorly worded, confusing or may be asked in many parts. Give only the answer to the question asked.

6. Ask the Attorney to Rephrase or Reask the Question – The questions asked should be completely understood. If you have listened carefully and you are asked a question that you do not understand, it is proper and appropriate to request that the attorney rephrase the question. You should not feel anxious or embarrassed to request that the question be rephrased.

7. Only Answer Questions Within Your Scope of Work – In some cases, you may be asked medical questions that are outside your knowledge or scope of practice. It is certainly appropriate for you to say that you do not know the answer to the question or that the information is beyond your knowledge as a nurse. You should not answer questions involving subjects about which you are not knowledgeable. It is also proper to state if you do not remember the answer to a question.

8. Stay Calm – While being deposed, attempt to stay calm, relaxed and composed throughout the deposition. This type of behavior will enhance your credibility as a witness. You should not be concerned with how your answers will affect others involved in the lawsuit. Be sure to take your time in answering the questions asked. You should not feel rushed to answer the questions; after all, the attorney deposing you subpoenaed you for the deposition.

9. Speak Clearly – Speaking clearly will also aid you in the deposition. A court reporter is recording everything you are saying. Therefore, you must orally answer every question. It will also assist to curtail rambling if you remember that a court reporter is recording every word you speak.

10. Be Polite - Being polite and cooperative can only help your position. Even though an attorney may attempt to intimidate you, being polite and cooperative will hinder his ability to make you feel uncomfortable.

11. Never Lose Your Temper - Never lose your temper or allow yourself to lose control. Some attorneys will try to get you to do this so you will say something without thinking.

12. No Joking – Do not laugh or joke around immediately before, during or after a deposition. This is a serious matter. Treat it seriously. Never relax your guard around the opposing attorney. He is not your friend.

13. Pause Before Answering – Pause two seconds before you answer each question. This will give you time to think. This will also give your attorney time to object if the question is improper.

14. Stop Immediately if Someone Else Speaks – If anyone else starts to speak, stop talking immediately. If your attorney objects, listen very carefully to the objection. Your attorney may be trying to tell you something.

After your Deposition 

After being deposed, if you made any mistakes in your deposition or later remember an answer, notify your attorney immediately. It is probably not too late to correct it.

You have the right to obtain a copy, check and change any errors or mistakes (even ones you made) in the typed transcript of the deposition. Never waive your right to obtain a copy and read the deposition transcript (unless your attorney has advised you of a good reason to do this before the deposition). Demand that you receive a copy of the transcript so you can review it prior to your later testimony at the trial (which may be years later). Always demand a copy of the transcript with all of the exhibits attached to it.

You have the right to review the entire transcript, correct any typographical errors or any erroneous statements you may have made and file these corrections with the transcript. You can only do this if you exercise your right as a deponent to “read and sign the transcript.” This is very important. Never agree to waive “reading and signing” unless you have discussed it with your attorney before the deposition and you have received a good reason you should do this.

If you will be called as a witness at the trial or in a related case, always review the transcript of your deposition twice, once approximately one week before and again the night before you testify.

Again, until the entire case is over and finalized (only your attorney can tell you when this is), do not discuss the case with anyone else.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses at Depositions.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses in depositions, 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 Nurse Accused of Abusing Patient

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

A Florida State Hospital licensed practical nurse (LPN) has been arrested and charged with one count of abuse of a disabled adult at the facility. The nurse was arrested on a felony warrant by the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU). The arrest was announced by the Florida Attorney General on June 29, 2012.

Nurse Accused of Abusing Patient During Medication Administration.

The nurse allegedly struck a disabled woman at the mental health facility, while trying to administer medication. The nurse attempted to administer medications to the patient by holding her nose closed in an attempt to force her mouth open, slapping her across the face, and pulling the patient’s hair, according to the charges filed.

The nurse has been charged with one count of abuse of a disabled adult, which is a third degree felony. If convicted she faces up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) Conducted Investigation.

Investigators with the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) received information regarding the alleged abuse from the Florida Department of Children and Families’ (DCF) Adult Protective Services Program. The Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the arrest. The case will be prosecuted by the State Attorney’s Office for the Second Judicial Circuit of Florida.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses.

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.

Sources Include:

Lucas, John. “Attorney General Pam Bondi Announces Arrest of Nurse for Abusing a Disabled Adult at Florida State Hospital.” Florida Office of the Attorney General. (June 29, 2012). Press Release. From: http://www.myfloridalegal.com/newsrel.nsf/newsreleases/AF6292E44D8579B685257A2C0069ED2D

WCTV. “Nurse at Florida State Hospital Arrested for Abuse.” WCTV.com. (June 29, 2012). From: http://www.wctv.tv/home/headlines/Nurse_at_Florida_State_Hospital_Arrested_for_Abuse_160893645.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.