Your Professional Nursing License May Be Your Most Valuable Asset; Insure It!

5 Indest-2008-2By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Suppose you had an item that you really wanted but was very expensive.  Suppose this item cost you $80,000.  Perhaps you took out a loan in order to pay for the item.

Suppose in addition to paying $80,000 you also had to work for four years and contribute four years of your labor to help pay for the item.  For this example, let’s assume your four years of labor is equivalent to an additional $80,000.  Once you can afford the item, you will have invested the equivalent of $160,000 for it.

In order to protect this expensive item, would you insure it?  If this item produced additional income for you, would you insure it?  After considering the price tag of the item, and knowing you have achieved something few others ever do, would you insure it for its full value?

I think almost everyone would answer yes to the questions above.  I certainly would, and I expect you would too.

Yet, I am constantly contacted by nurses who have worked hard for many years, have paid tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, fees, books, and who have sacrificed in order to obtain a nursing degree and nursing license.  Yet, they have not purchased insurance to protect their hard earned licenses.

I am baffled at the number of nurses who come to us in serious trouble because a complaint has been filed against them by a former employer, vengeful co-worker, unhappy patient (or patient’s family), or disgruntled former spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc.  Often the issues are complex.  The legal procedures surrounding administrative complaints and administrative hearings are certainly complicated and confusing.  Yet they do not have the savings to hire an experienced attorney to defend them, and they do not have insurance to cover their defense.

I’m not speaking of professional liability insurance when I am writing this.  I am speaking of insurance to cover your legal defense expenses in the event a complaint is filed against you, jeopardizing your nursing license.  A nursing license with discipline on it is like an old antique painting with a big hole in it; its value is greatly diminished.  A nursing license with disciplinary action is worth a lot less than one that is unblemished.  It is not as marketable as one with no damage on it.

In my experience, nurses are far more likely to have a complaint filed against them resulting in an investigation for possible discipline against their licenses than they are to have a professional liability suit filed against them.  That is why I say that you should purchase nursing liability insurance because of the professional licensure defense coverage it provides;  not because it pays in the event of a law suit.

Furthermore, given that most popular nursing liability insurance (e.g., Nurses Service Organization (NSO) Insurance, CPH & Associates Insurance) is very inexpensive (as little as $10 a month), it is foolish not to be insured.  You have an extremely valuable asset that could easily produce $2 million in income during your lifetime.  Don’t you think a hundred dollars a year is worth paying to help protect it?

This is why I stress buying nursing liability insurance.  Buy it now!  Be sure you are covered for at least $25,000 in professional license defense expense coverage and preferably more, if you can get it.  Buy two policies if necessary.  But buy it!  If you don’t, when you really need it, it will be too late.  You may lose that valuable asset you worked so hard to get.

Comments?

Have you dragged your feet in purchasing professional liability insurance? If so, why? Did reading this blog change your mind? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent registered nurses, nurse practitioners, advanced practice registered nurses, certified registered nurse anesthetists, midwives and licensed practical nurses in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, in appearances before the Board of Nursing in licensing matters and in many other legal matters. We represent nurses across the U.S., and throughout Florida.

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.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Kudos to Wyoming State Board of Nursing for its Accurate Information on its Website for Nurses

8 Indest-2008-5By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

As a nurse, when you are the subject of a complaint that alleges improper conduct or action that could result in discipline against your license, finding correct information regarding the disciplinary process is vital. I’ve recently found that the Wyoming State Board of Nursing (BON) is one of the few nursing board websites that provide accurate information on discipline. On this website, there is information about  nurses’ legal rights, and explanations of the investigation or hearing process, for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), Registered Nurses (RNs), Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs).

Click here to go to the Wyoming State BON website.

Wyoming State BON Website Provides Information Regarding the Board’s Duty of Reporting to National Practitioner Data Bank.

Information about nursing discipline actions was previously reported to the Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank (HIPDB) by the Board taking action. The HIPDB collected reports made by federal and state licensing agencies, federal and state prosecutors, and federal and state government agencies that had excluded a practitioner, provider or supplier from their health plan.

On May 6, 2013, the HIPDB officially merged with the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). The two data banks are now known as the NPDB. To read a blog on how this merger affects you, click here. For more information about NPDB, visit the website: http://www.npdb-hipdb.hrsa.gov/.

Wyoming Website Provides Information Regarding Actions by Office of Inspector General and the Exclusion List.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has the authority to exclude individuals and entities from federally funded health care programs (Medicare, Tricare, Medicaid) and maintain a list of all currently excluded individuals and entities. This is called the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE). Anyone who hires an individual or entity that is listed on the LEIE may be subject to civil monetary penalties (CMP).

The OIG has discretion to exclude individuals such as nurses or nursing assistants on a number of grounds, including misdemeanor convictions related to health care fraud (other than Medicare or a state health program); misdemeanor convictions relating to the unlawful manufacture, distribution, prescription, or dispensing of controlled substances; and purposes of disciplinary action by the Board including suspension, revocation or surrender of a license for reasons baring on professional competence or professional performance.

This means that if your license or certificate is suspended, revoked or voluntarily surrendered, your ability to be employed by a health care provider or facility that also receives federal funding, such as Medicare, may be precluded despite the statue of your licensure. In other words, once you are on the exclusion list and have not been taken off even after a reinstatement, you will not be able to be hired as a nurse or nursing assistant by medical facilities receiving federal funds.

To read more on the devastating and far-reaching effects of being excluded, click here.

The Wyoming BON website is the only one I have come across that accurately advises nurses of the collateral consequences of disciplinary action.

Legal Advice for Nurses in These Situations.

I want to commend the Wyoming State BON for including this information on its website. The information provides a great start for nurses with complaints against their licenses.

I’d like to offer up some additional advice. I encourage all nurses to buy insurance to cover license investigation legal defense expenses. 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. You should have at least $25,000 in coverage for such investigations and administrative proceedings.

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

If the BON is investigating a complaint against your license, immediately obtain an experienced health law attorney to represent you throughout the investigation and disciplinary proceedings.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, in appearances before the Board of Nursing in licensing matters and in many other legal matters. We represent nurses across the U.S., and throughout Florida.

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

Comments?

What do you think of the information listed on the Wyoming State Board of Nursing website? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Nurses Service Organization (NSO) Attorneys, Lawyers and Defense Council in Florida

indest1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Often we learn after the fact that a health professional such as nurses, advance registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse practitioners (CRNPs) and nurse midwives (NMs) has received Nurses Service Organization (NSO) insurance, has had a legal problem, and has not been able to locate an attorney or law firm that accepts this type of insurance. We have offices in Florida and Colorado, but we have attorneys licensed in Florida, Colorado, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, Virginia and other states.

Additionally, we can provide legal advice and representation in license investigations and administrative proceedings in many other states.

If you have NSO Insurance, do not go without an attorney or with a lawyer that has little or no experience where you need it.

The Health Law Firm Will Work with Your Insurance Company.

Call us first. We can assist you in determining if your legal problem is covered by your insurance, and we can help you file a claim to have your legal defense expenses and costs covered. In most cases, we will accept the assignment of your insurance so that you do not have to worry about legal bills while your case is going on.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in the Representation of Nurses.

The Health Law Firm routinely 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.

In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company. We will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company, if your insurance company will allow this. Many of these insurers will pay our firm to represent you in the legal defense of an investigation or complaint against your professional (nursing, medical, dental, psychology, mental health counselor) license or for an administrative hearing involving professional discipline.

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.

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Nurses: Locate a Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance Defense Attorney in Florida Company Cases

Patricia's Photos 013By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

We are sometimes told by the health professionals we represent especially pharmacists, licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs), advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), massage therapists and physical therapists that after they received a complaint regarding their license from the Florida Department of Health (DOH) they had difficulty finding an experienced attorney in Florida who would accept their professional liability insurance.  In this case, I am speaking specifically about Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance.

Benefits of HPSO Insurance.

The professionals who are covered by HPSO Insurance have excellent insurance coverage.  HPSO Insurance provides professional liability coverage that protects in the event of a lawsuit or negligence claim.  But much more often the professional receives a notice of an investigation, a subpoena for a deposition in someone else’s case, a demand because of an allegation of sexual harassment or sexual impropriety, a complaint because of a breach of medical records confidentiality or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy complaint, or some other administrative type of action.

HPSO provides great coverage for these.  For example, HPSO currently reimburses up to $10,000 in legal fees and expenses just for representation of you at depositions.  HPSO currently reimburses up to $25,000 in legal fees and expenses for your defense in a DOH or Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) notice of investigation or complaint.  HPSO currently reimburses up to $25,000 in legal fees and expenses for your legal representation in defense of a complaint or investigation regarding breach of medical confidentiality.

If you are a pharmacist, own a pharmacy, are a massage therapist, own an assisted living facility (ALF), are a mental health counselor or a social worker, or you are one of the many other types of health care professionals who HPSO insures, it should be fairly easy to find experienced health lawyers to represent you, especially in Florida.

Our firm and our attorneys, including George F. Indest III, Michael L. Smith, Joanne Kenna, Carole C. Schriefer, Lance O. Leider, Christopher E. Brown and Danielle M. Murray, routinely represent licensed health care professionals, interns and students in all types of administrative investigations and hearings and in defending lawsuits and other actions that have been filed.  We also represent health facilities in license defense, survey complaints and administrative hearings.  We represent them throughout Florida, from Pensacola, to Jacksonville, to Key West.  We also occasionally represent them in other states, as well.  We accept HPSO Insurance assignments.

Free Legal Advice: Get Insurance Immediately.

It is very important for every health professional to carry insurance that covers any investigation, complaint or administrative hearing that might be filed or opened against your license.  You may think that you are covered for this by your employer, but you are not.  If your employer contradicts this, ask for a statement in writing that your employer will pay for your legal defense for any such matter arising during your employment.

What typically happens, especially in the case of a hospital employee, nursing home employee, pharmacy employee or corporate employee, is that the employer is the one who terminates the employee and then files a complaint with the DOH.  The DOH then opens an investigation against the health professional.  The employer is not going to pay your legal defense costs if the employer has reported you.

You may very well be out of work, out of money and face an investigation and complaint that could terminate your professional license and career.  You should not take this chance.  Insurance such as HPSO Insurance is inexpensive and reliable.  Buy it while you can afford it. After the actions have occurred, it is too late.

Find an Experience Health Law Attorney in the Event of an Investigation.

Also, you should immediately contact an experienced health law attorney if you are telephoned or visited by any investigator, or if you receive a letter advising you that an investigation has been opened regarding your care.  Call immediately for advice before you speak with an investigator or provide any documents or statements of any kind.

You cannot and should not seek “legal advice” on what to do from the investigator, from a DOH employee, from your professional board or from any attorney representing any of them.  They are not your friends.  They are on the side against you. You should definitely not take any advice from them.

Do Not Skimp on Insurance Coverage.

If you have good insurance, it will pay for your legal expenses from the very beginning, so use it.  However, beware of cheap insurance policies from professional associations that do not provide any coverage for disciplinary complaints and licensure investigations.  Always check to be sure this is covered.  Get it in writing.  With some companies you have to pay an extra premium to obtain this coverage.  With some insurers, they do not offer it, and you have to purchase a completely separate policy covering just this.  It is worth it!  Do it!

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

Our firm regularly represents pharmacists, massage therapists, mental health counselors, registered nurses, assisted living facilities, home health agencies, nurse practitioners, lab technicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, physician assistants, psychologists and other health professionals in many different legal matters.

Services we provide include representation before your professional board, in DOH investigations, in administrative hearings, in civil litigation, in defense of malpractice claims, in professional licensing matters, in defense of allegations concerning HIPAA privacy violations and medical record breaches, in Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) actions, and in many other matters.

We routinely represent physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, and others in defending against malpractice claims, civil lawsuits, administrative complaints, peer review actions, DOH investigations, Medicare audits, Medicaid audits, and other matters. In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company.  If allowed, we will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company.

We also defend health professionals and health facilities in general litigation matters and business litigation matters.

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

Comments?

Do you have professional liability insurance? Why or why not. Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Tips, Pointers and Reminders for Administrative Hearings

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

Formal administrative hearings are one of the options provided to a person who has significant (or substantial) interests that will be affected by agency action and who contests the material facts involved in the case.

In this blog, we are usually discussing a hearing involving the professional license of the nurse. In many cases this will be a notice of intent to deny a license application; however, in most cases, it will be based on an administrative complaint filed against the nurse charging the nurse with a violation of the Nurse Practice Act or other misconduct.

A formal administrative hearing is the only chance which is provided to a nurse to actually challenge the facts of the case and show, for example, that she is not guilty of the charges alleged against her. The formal administrative hearing is the only proceeding in which the nurse against whom the complaint is filed (called the “respondent”) may confront the evidence against her (documents and witnesses) and introduce her own evidence (including her own testimony, if desired), to show she is not
guilty of the charges.

Formal administrative hearings are governed by the Florida Administrative Procedure Act (APA), Chapter 120, Florida Statutes. Please see the separate chapter in this Manual on the Administrative
Procedure Act.

Our Tips, Pointers and Reminders for Administrative Hearings.

This is a partial checklist of some of the matters we check in preparing for administrative hearings. It is not complete and it may not apply in every case. It should serve as a reminder of certain issues that
should be checked up on prior to the actual date of the hearing.

1. If you need one, make sure to notify the ALJ or make a reservation for a televison monitor, VCR/DVD, projector, screen, or conference phone early (when the original order setting the hearing is received), and follow up with a confirmation letter to the hearing coordinator.

2. Make sure all witnesses testifying have been listed in your answers to interrogatories, and if not, amend your answers to include all witnesses. Also, check the witness list for the pre-hearing stipulation.

3. File all discovery responses/answers immediately when received, with the Clerk of the Division of Administrative Hearings, using a notice of filing, so these will be in the official record. If there is discovery not answered, do a motion to compel (except with requests
for admissions).

4. Some administrative law judges have ceratin procedures they require or certain things they don’t allow in hearing procedures. It is a good idea to check with someone else who has appeared before the ALJ to find out if that ALJ has any.

5. Go onto the Division of Administrative Hearing website, search for and review the last few recommended orders (ROs) and Final Orders on your administrative law judge ahead of time. This will give you an idea of what the administrative law judge is like and how he/she has ruled on various issues in the past. The DOAH website is (www.doah.state.fl.us). Go to case search, put in ALJ’s name and agency name (for example DOH) to obtain Recommended Orders on similar cases.

6. On the day of the hearing, get to the room at the final hearing site early to organize and re-set the room if necessary, to choose where you want to sit. Rearrange the room, if necessary to have a proper hearing setting to create one large conference able in the middle, as most administrative law judges seem to prefer this.

7. Investigation reports are inadmissible as hearsay. You must object to them if the DOH attorney attempts to introduce one.

8. Also, settlement negotiations (including the transcript or minutes of Board meeting at which a settlement stipulation was considered, and any statements made by the respondent or anyone else in support of it are inadmissible, per Rule 90.408 (civil) and Rule 90.410
(criminal) of the Rules of Evidence.

9. Affidavits are considered hearsay evidence, but since this is an administrative hearing the ALJ may allow one or more into evidence, if it is being used to corroborate previously admitted evidence.

10. If you want to introduce an affidavit at hearing and you have the witness who made the affidavit available, have the witness present, have the witness take the stand and testify from the affidavit.

11. Bring a copy of the most recent DOAH court docket for case, to be able to prove that a document was or was not filed.

Although not directly applicable to a formal administrative hearing involving a nursing license case, the following checklist which we use for formal hearings involving Medicaid benefits, may also be useful to you.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses Administrative Hearings.

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

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.

Nurses: Did You Know You Have Fifth Amendment Rights in a Florida Department of Health Investigation Involving Your License?

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

If you are contacted by a Florida Department of Health investigator, did you know that you cannot be required to make a statement or give any information that can be used against you? If you are being investigated you have a right to refuse to speak with an investigator pursuant to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the equivalent rights given by the Florida Constitution, Article 1, Section 9. Unfortunately, because the Miranda decision does not apply to administrative proceedings, including licensure investigations, the DOH investigator does not have to inform you of this.

In some states other than Florida, the state’s law is such that a nurse or other licensed health care professional is required to “cooperate” with the investigation, even though he or she may be punished or lose their license as a result. However, this is not the case in Florida.

Florida Nursing Licensing Investigations Are Considered to Be “Penal” or “Quasi-criminal” in Nature.

Florida nursing licensing (or any health care licensing) investigations are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” in nature. In Florida, a professional’s license is considered to be a property right. So you also have the constitutional right not to be deprived of it without due process of law. Due Process of law is guaranteed not only by the Florida and U.S. constitutional provisions cited above, but also by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Due process of law includes the right to be represented by an attorney in any proceedings that might be initiated that may result in your losing your license.

In Florida, a long history of legal cases has resulted in the common law rule that administrative proceedings that may result in loss of a license must afford all of the protections that a criminal defendant would have in a criminal case.

Florida Case Law.

In a 2004 case involving the Florida Department of Health, the Florida First District Court of Appeal stated:

Initially, it should not be forgotten that because professional disciplinary statutes are penal in nature, they must be strictly construed with any ambiguity interpreted in favor of the licensee. See Ocampo v. Dep’t of Health, 806 So. 2d 633, 634 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002); Elmariah v. Dep’t of Prof. Reg., Board of Med., 574 So. 2d 164 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990).

Cone v. Dep’t of Health, 886 So. 2d 1007, 1011 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004).

The Florida Supreme Court confirmed that a licensee could assert a Fifth Amendment right in administrative proceedings in the 1973 case of State ex rel. Vining v. Florida Real Estate Commission, 281 So.2d 487 (1973).

In Vining a real estate broker was charged by the Florida Real Estate Commission of violating the Real Estate License Law. Id. at 488. The broker filed a sworn answer, as he was required to do under Florida Statute Section 475.30(1). Id. The broker later argued that the Florida statute violated his right against self-incrimination as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution. Id.

The Florida Supreme Court agreed, holding that “the right to remain silent applies not only to the traditional criminal case, but also to proceedings ‘penal’ in nature in that they tend to degrade the individual’s professional standing, professional reputation or livelihood.” Id. at 491 (citing Spevack v. Klein, 385 U.S. 511, 87 S.Ct. 625, 17 L.Ed.2d 574 (1967); Stockham v. Stockham, 168 So. 2d 320 (Fla. 1964)). More recently, courts have reaffirmed that Vining remains good law in Florida. See Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993); Scott v. Department of Professional Regulation, 603 So. 2d 519, 520 (Fla. 1st DCA 1992).

In Best Pool & Spa Service Co., Inc. v. Romanik, 622 So. 2d 65, 66 (Fla. 4th DCA 1993), for example, the Court of Appeal reiterated the ability of a defendant to claim the Fifth Amendment privilege in an administrative proceeding. Best Pool involved a pool owner filing actions for negligence and breach of contract against a pool maintenance contractor and its president. The circuit court required the president to answer questions at his deposition about his certifying to the county, in an application for license, that the contractor had liability insurance. The Court of Appeal ruled that the president was allowed to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege with regard to questions on this issue. The court stated in Best Pool: “requiring Kassover, the president, to answer these questions does violate his right against self incrimination, which applies not only to criminal matters but also administrative proceedings such as licensing. Id. at 66.

There are many other cases which have held the same.

Be Extremely Leery When Dealing with a DOH Investigator or Any Investigator.

If you receive notice that a DOH disciplinary investigation has been opened against you, you may not even realize it or understand how serious the consequences may be. The notice comes in the form of a simple letter or, more often nowadays, a phone call, followed by a letter. The letter will be on Florida Department of Health letterhead and will, in most cases, be signed by a person whose job title is “Medical Malpractice Investigator,” “Quality Assurance Investigator” or some other title that might throw you off.

If you think you are giving information to be used in connection with a true quality assurance matter, such as would be confidential and privileged in a hospital or health institution, think again. This is an investigation that could result in your having to pay thousands of dollars in fines, thousands of dollars in investigative costs and suspension or loss of your license. Worse yet are the other consequences that having discipline on your professional license will bring, including difficulty in obtaining employment, reports being made to national data banks, etc. Please see some of the other articles we have on our blog and on our website about all of the unforeseen consequences of discipline on your license.

Being Told the Investigation Is Not Aimed at You? Watch Out!

Even if the investigator attempts to ensure you that the investigation is not aimed at you, watch out! It may not be aimed at you today, but it may be aimed at you tomorrow. Additionally, even if the particular investigation that you are being questioned about is not directed against you, there may be another investigation that has been opened against you. Your statement can and will be sued against you in that other investigation.

I was told by a DOH investigator one time that my clients (who were a director of nursing (DON), assistant director of nursing (ADON), an administrator and a medical director) were not being investigated, but that another health professional was. My clients cooperated and gave statements for use in the investigation of the other person. A short time later, additional investigations were opened against all of them, too. Fortunately we eventually had all of the charges against all of them dismissed. But I have not trusted investigators since then.

Don’t Wait Until it is Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Representing Nurses Now.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm routinely represent nurses, ARNPs, CRNAs, home health agencies, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other healthcare providers in licensing investigations, regulatory matters, in board actions and in administrative hearings, including before the Board of Nursing. Call now at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or visit our website 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.

Disclaimer: Please note that this article represents our opinions based on our many years of practice and experience in this area of health law. You may have a different opinion; you are welcome to it. This one is mine. This article is for informational purposes only; it is not legal advice.

Nurse: Please, Please, Please: Talk to an Attorney Before You Talk to an Investigator

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

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

Despite mailing out hundreds of thousands of postcards and letters to physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and psychologists  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.

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.

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 medical license revoked or have your nursing license revoked or have your DEA number revoked or lose your Medicare provider status or your Medicaid provider status, 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.

Admitting to Anything Can 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 health professionals 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.

How to Determine the Purpose of the Investigation.

Hint: If it is a Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) special agent (investigator), you are probably under investigation for Medicaid fraud.

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 an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) special agent (investigator), you are probably under investigation for Medicare fraud or Medicare false claims.

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.

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.

Consult an Attorney Before You Do or Say Anything.

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 health professional 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 Health Professionals Today.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health providers in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid 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:  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.

Appealing Final Orders and Emergency Suspension Orders (ESOs)

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

George F. Indest III is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health LawThe professional boards for licensed health professionals in Florida, such as the Board of Nursing, are all under the Florida Department of Health (DOH).  Each board is responsible for disciplinary actions and other matters regulating the professions under its authority.  The investigators and attorneys assigned for Board of Nursing matters all work for or are assigned to the DOH.  The Florida DOH is headed up by the Florida Surgeon General.  I think of the DOH as the umbrella agency over the professional boards or as a parent corporation which owns many subsidiary corporations.

Administrative Procedures Governing Investigations and Disciplinary Actions

All agency actions, especially disciplinary actions and investigations, are governed by the Florida Administrative Procedure Act (APA), Chapter 120, Florida Statutes.  The Florida APA is modeled after the Federal Administrative Procedure Act.  However, in addition to the Florida APA, DOH investigations and hearings may also be governed by several different provisions of Chapter 456, Florida Statutes, a set of laws which govern all licensed health professionals.

For example, Section 456.073, Florida Statutes, gives certain procedural steps that must be followed in investigations and probable cause hearings involving complaints against nurses and other health professionals.  Section 456.073(13), Florida Statutes, is a new section added several years ago that provides a six (6) year “statute of limitations” for many disciplinary matters;  but there are many exceptions to this.

Section 456.074, Florida Statutes, gives the Surgeon General the authority to issue emergency suspension orders (or “ESOs”) in certain cases.  Section 456.076, Florida Statutes, authorizes the establishment of treatment programs for impaired health professionals and offers some alternatives to disciplinary action.  To date, the only recognized programs are the Intervention Project for Nurses (IPN) (which covers all nursing professionals) and the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) (which covers almost all other health professionals).  Section 456.077, Florida Statutes, authorizes nondisciplinary citations for certain offenses.  Section 456.078, Florida Statutes, authorizes mediation for certain offenses.

Mistaken Advice Regarding Appeals

We are often consulted by nurses after they have an emergency suspension orders (or ESOs) entered against them or after they have a Final Order for disciplinary action entered against them.  We often hear that they consulted an attorney who advised them at an earlier stage of the proceedings to not worry about putting together and presenting a defense or disputing the charges at a formal administrative hearing.  We are told that they have been mistakenly advised that they should just wait and file an appeal because they are more likely to win on appeal.

This is, of course, incorrect advice.  If you compare these proceedings to criminal investigations, would any competent attorney advise you to not worry about preparing for a trial or contesting the charges at a trial?  Would any competent attorney advise you to just wait until you are convicted, because you could then file an appeal?  No, of course not.  This is because appeals are based on legal defects in the proceedings and do not involve any presentation of new facts that are not already in the record.  Additionally, very few cases are reversed on appeal, whether criminal, civil or administrative in nature.  So why give up your best shots at winning a case:  presenting a good case of factual information and documents at the investigation level or disputing the charges at a formal hearing?

Don’t Try to Be Your Own Attorney on an Appellate Matter

There are, of course, many valid legal grounds for appeals of emergency suspension orders (ESOs) and Final Orders.  However, you have to understand the law and the procedural rules that govern such matters in order to be able to identify them and argue them on appeal.  In addition, appellate law is a legal specialty of its own.  If you are not familiar with researching case law and writing legal briefs, you should not be attempting to appeal your own case.  Would you attempt to perform brain surgery on yourself?  If so, you should get your head examined.  The courts of appeal are far more exacting in their requirements than trial courts are. See The Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure.  However, most Florida courts of appeal also have their own local rules which may apply to appeals.

Grounds for appeal of an Emergency Suspension Order (ESO) include that less restrictive means of protecting the public were available or that the conduct alleged does not meet the legal requirement for imposing such a suspension.  Grounds for appeal of a Final Order include that the punishment it gives exceeds the disciplinary guidelines that each board has and that proper procedures were not followed which deprived the respondent of his or her right to a fair hearing.  There are many other grounds which one who practices regularly before the Board will be able to identify and raise in an appeal.

Where to Appeal May Be an Issue

The notice of appeal must be filed with the clerk of the DOH.  However, a copy must also be filed with the appropriate appellate court having jurisdiction.  The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee will have jurisdiction in almost all DOH and Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) appeals.  However, the District Court of Appeal which has jurisdiction over the county in which the respondent health professional resides will also have jurisdiction.  If the appellate case law of one of these is more favorable than the other, from a strategic viewpoint, it may be better to file in the one with the more favorable case law.

Alternative Actions to an Appeal May be Appropriate

Furthermore, there may be more effective and less expensive methods of obtaining relief from an emergency suspension orders (ESOs) or Final Order than an appeal.  If you are subject to an emergency suspension orders (ESOs), you have the right to an expedited hearing.  Sometimes this will result in quicker relief than appealing it.  If you are subject to a Final Order that has been issued in error or there was some mistake in the proceedings that led up to it, the Board may be inclined to reconsider the matter and amend it.

Always Carry Professional Liability Insurance that Includes Licensure Defense Coverage

We continue to recommend that all nursing personnel, especially those who work in hospitals, nursing homes or for agencies, carry your own professional liability insurance.  If you do purchase insurance, make sure it has professional license defense coverage that will pay for your legal defense in the event a complaint is filed against your nursing license.  Usually coverage of up to $25,000 comes with most good nursing liability policies.  There are many companies that sell such insurance for as little as $150 per year.  However, if you can get additional coverage, $50,000 is more likely to cover any foreseeable investigations, hearings and appeals.

Seek Legal Advice and Prepare Your Defenses Early

Always seek legal advice as soon as you suspect there may be a complaint of any kind or an investigation of any kind.  Don’t hide your head in the sand and think that the investigation could not possibly be about you.  Talk to an attorney before you talk to anyone else.  A good attorney will help to save you from making mistakes that could compromise a good legal defense.

Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com. to set up a consultation on any of the above issues.

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.

Disclaimer:  This article is for general information and education purposes only and must not be regarded as legal advice.

Copyright © George F. Indest III, Altamonte Springs, Florida, all rights reserved.  No part of this article may be reproduced or used without the permission of the author and owner.

Advice for Nurses Regarding 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

We see and hear about a lot of incorrect legal advice being given to nurses regarding what they should do if they are being investigated.

The incorrect advice being given even includes mailings they may have received containing a brochure “What Every Nurse Needs to Know” published by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. It gives advice in response to the question: “What should you do if you are the subject of a complaint?” It advises the nurse to contact the Board of Nursing (BON) immediately in such an event and states that the complaint will be handled in a “fair and appropriate matter.” It advises that a BON representative will describe the investigation process and answer any questions that you may have about an investigation if a complaint is filed against you.

This does not appear to be sound advice and we would warn nurses against following it. Such advice may cause great damage to any defenses you may have, even if you are totally innocent.  If you don’t believe me, then contact a nurse who has been investigated and has received discipline and ask him or her what he or she thinks about this.  Alternatively, attend a Board of Nursing meeting and observe first hand the disciplinary cases that come before it (you can even get free continuing education credits for doing this) and talk to some of the nurses there.

You Have a Constitutional Right in Florida to Refuse to Make a Statement

Most states, Florida included, do not require you to make any statement to an investigator (or attorney) working on a Board of Nursing complaint.  We recommend that you not do so.

Under Florida law, your constitutional right to not make any statement that might help to incriminate you applies to such proceedings. Nurses are often falsely accused of misconduct or wrongdoing by patients, families of patients, employers and rivals. Most states do have adequate procedural safeguards in place that, if used by the nurse, will help to ensure the correct outcome of the matter. However, you must first know what these rights and safeguards are, and then know how to use them to your advantage in such proceedings. Very few attorneys are experienced in such matters and even fewer nurses are.

Investigations That May Affect Your Professional License Are Considered to Be “Penal” or “Quasi-criminal” Investigations

You should think of the investigation in the same light as a criminal investigation against you if you were wrongfully accused of a crime. In the case of a BON complaint, you can lose your license, lose your career, and be assessed monetary fines in the thousands of dollars. Why would you want to contact the investigator in such a matter and make statements that can later be used against you, if you don’t have to?

In most states, Florida included, the burden of proof is on the state to prove every element of the case against you. However, if you make any statements to the investigator (or the attorney for the Board), oral or written, this can be used against you. Even the simplest, most innocuous statements can cause you tremendous difficulty, because anything you say is something the state is no longer required to prove in an investigation or a hearing.

Even the Simplest Statement You Make Can Be Used Against You

For example, the state may not have an admissible document or a witness who is available at the time who can state that you actually saw or treated the patient. Without being able to prove this, the state may not be able to prove any charge against you.

Yet if you make a simple statement that you did treat the patient, the state no longer has to introduce any other proof of this. You have helped the state to prove its case against you without even meaning to do so. You have now made the case against you quicker, easier and less expensive for the state to prove; you may have made the case against you possible to prove when otherwise the state would not have been able to prove it at all.

Board of Nursing Does Not Usually Give Legal Advice to Nurses

It has also been our experience that BON representatives and staff do not have the time or resources to answer every question you may have. Furthermore, BON representatives are not able to give you legal advice on what to do. Even if you do speak with an attorney representing the BON, that attorney is not allowed by law to give you legal advice. Remember, the attorney representing the BON works for the state and is similar to a prosecutor. If you were charged with a criminal offense, would you call up the attorney prosecuting you and ask for her or his legal advice on what to do?

Nursing Liability Insurance May Cover Your Legal Defense of a Complaint Against Your License; Call Your Insurer Right Away

If you have nursing malpractice insurance, your professional liability insurance will most probably pay for your legal defense of a complaint filed against you, for a subpoena sent to you or for any deposition you must give. The need for defense of a complaint filed against you with the state licensing agency occurs many times more frequently than the need to defend a nursing malpractice claim or suit. This is the main reason we recommend that every nurse purchase nursing malpractice insurance. It is very inexpensive and usually provides excellent coverage.

However, always check to make sure that it will cover your legal expenses in a nursing complaint whether or not it results in a potential malpractice claim. If possible, purchase a rider to raise the limits of such legal defense payments for licensure defense to at least $50,000. If this is not available from this insurer, purchase a second policy.

Most nursing professional liability insurance allows the nurse to select the attorney of his or her choice to defend her or him. This is a very desirable feature to have in a professional liability insurance policy. Otherwise, the insurance company will reserve the right to pick your attorney, whether or not you agree with the choice.

Your Employer Ain’t Gonna Cover You

Many nurses make a terrible mistake thinking “I work for a hospital;  the hospital insures me.” Or “I work for a nursing home, the nursing home insures me.” This is not correct when it comes to complaints filed with the Board of Nursing or Department of Health. A hospital will have insurance (or will self-insure) to cover itself, not you. A nursing home will have insurance to cover itself, not you. If you have a complaint filed against you with the Board of Nursing, it is very rare that your employer will pay for your legal defense;  additionally this will almost never occur if you no longer work for that employer.

In many cases, and in most cases we have seen in the past, it has been the employer hospital or the employer nursing home that has filed the complaint with the against the nurse. You don’t think the employer is going to pay for your legal defense if it has filed the complaint against you, do you? In addition, the employer who has filed the complaint, in the vast majority of cases, also fires the nurse. So you may be out of a job as well as not be able to pay for a legal defense of your license.

If your employer obtains an attorney to represent you in a matter, ask the attorney: “Do you work for me or the employer?” Also ask: “If there is a conflict between my defense and the employer’s defense, will you continue to represent me or will you represent the employer?” Ask these questions in writing and get the answer in writing.

Failing to purchase professional liability insurance to protect your license is not very smart given how inexpensive it is. You have worked many years to obtain your professional license. You and your family have spent a great deal of money for your education to achieve it. If you can’t afford a legal defense, you may be forced into accepting a settlement agreement (also referred to sometimes as a “stipulation” or a “plea bargain”) for some type of disciplinary action. Even if you only receive some small disciplinary action, this will be shown on your license forever. It will be reported to national reporting agencies and will prevent many employers, especially the good employers from hiring you. It may even bar you from working in some circumstances. If you have a professional license in another state, it will be reported to the other states and similar disciplinary investigations will be started against you in these other states.

Consult with an Experienced Attorney, Regardless

Even if you don’t have insurance that covers your legal defense in an investigation that has been opened against you, please locate and consult with an experienced health lawyer who routinely defends nurses in nursing board cases. Additionally, don’t believe or rely on all of the rumors, gossip and “legal advice” that your colleagues who are not lawyers (or even your lawyers friends who are not experienced health lawyers) will give you. The fee for the legal consultation is worth the price. Make your decisions from a position of experienced knowledge, not one of ignorance or false assumptions.

We recommend that if you receive any notice or indication that anyone has filed a complaint against you with the BON or any other licensing agency that you do not contact the BON, its investigators, or any of its representatives.  We recommend that you immediately contact an attorney who specializes in defending nurses before the BON.

Locating an Experienced Attorney

If you are unable to locate an attorney experienced in handling nursing cases, contact The Health Law Firm, The American Association of Nurse Attorneys (TAANA), the American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA), or your state bar association, by telephone or by visiting their website. Ask for a referral to such an attorney. Be sure to ask the attorney how many similar cases has she or he actually handled before the Board of Nursing.

This Advice Applies to Other Health Professionals as Well

The foregoing information applies to doctors, dentists, pharmacists, advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse practitioners (CRNAs), midwives, physician assistants, massage therapists, psychologists, mental health counselors, social workers, and all other licensed health professionals;  not just to nurses.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent nurses, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse practitioners (CRNAs), midwives, physician assistants, massage therapists, psychologists, mental health counselors, social workers, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, medical students, residents, interns and all other licensed health professionals, in Florida and also in states other than Florida.  In many states we are permitted to represent the health professional in investigations and administrative proceedings.

The Bottom Line:  Don’t Talk to Investigators

The bottom line is:  Don’t talk to an investigator until your attorney has checked him or her out and advises you it is okay to do so.  This will rarely happen.

Disclaimer: Please note that this article represents our opinions based on our many years of practice and experience in this area of health law. You may have a different opinion; you are welcome to it. This one is mine.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only; it is not legal advice.

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.

Preparing for an Informal Hearing Before the Board of Nursing

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

If you are scheduled to appear for an informal hearing before the Florida Board of Nursing, there are a number of facts that you will want to know in order to be properly prepared.  This article will cover many of them.

Limited Circumstances for Informal Administrative Hearing

First, you should understand that you will only be at an informal hearing in which you appear before the Board of Nursing itself for a very limited number of reasons.  These will include the following:

  1. If you completed an election of rights (EOR) form and agreed that you did not intend to dispute any material facts alleged against you from the administrative complaint (AC) in the case.
  2. If you entered into a settlement agreement (or “stipulation”) (similar to a plea bargain in a criminal case) in which you agreed to accept discipline against your license.
  3. You failed to submit any election of rights (EOR) form and failed to file a petition for a formal hearing in a timely manner, and, therefore, you have waived your right to a formal hearing.

There are a few other circumstances in which there may be an informal hearing before the Board, such as motions to modify a final order, motion to lift a suspension of a license, appearance in accordance with an earlier order, petition for a declaratory statement, or other administrative matters.  This article only discusses those directly relating to disciplinary action as indicated above.

What an Informal Administrative Hearing Is Not

  1. An informal administrative hearing is notan opportunity for you to tell your side of the story.  You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.
  2. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to prove that you are innocent of the charges.  You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.
  3. An informal administrative hearing is notan opportunity for you to introduce documents or evidence to show that someone else committed the offenses charged and you did not.  You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.
  4. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to argue that you should not be in the board’s impaired practitioners program (either the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) or the intervention Project for Nurses (IPN)) because you have completed a different program or that you do not have a problem.  These are the only programs recognized and used and you have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

Formal Administrative Hearing vs. Informal Hearing

If you desire to contest the facts alleged against you then you must state this in writing.  If the material facts in a case are challenged by you, then the Board or the Department of Health (DOH) (note:  all professional boards are under the Department of Health in Florida) must forward your case to the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) where a neutral, objective administrative law judge (ALJ) will be appointed to hold a formal hearing in your case.  This is the only way that exists for you to prove that the facts alleged against you are incorrect or that you are not guilty of the charges made against you.  In fact, you do not even have to do anything in such a case.  The Department of Health has the burden of proof and it has to prove the charges against you and the material facts alleged against you by clear and convincing evidence.  Often, it is unable to do this at a formal administrative hearing.

However, because of the technicalities of evidentiary law and administrative law, we do not recommend that a nonlawyer attempt to represent himself or herself at such hearings.  You can make technical mistakes (such as answering requests for admissions incorrectly) that severely compromise any defense you may have.  We recommend that you always retain the services of an experienced health lawyer in any such matter.

What to Do If You Find That You Are at an Informal Hearing and That You Do Desire to Contest the Material Facts of the Case (And Your Guilt or Innocence)

If you have been scheduled for an informal administrative hearing and you decide that you do desire to challenge the material facts alleged against you in the administrative complaint (AC), file a written objection to proceeding at the informal hearing.  State that you have discovered that there are material facts that you do desire to challenge and that you desire that the proceedings be converted to a formal hearing.  File this with the Clerk of the administrative agency you are before (usually the department of health or the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and also send a copy to the opposing attorney and the executive director of the Board.  Do this as early as possible and keep proof that you have actually and filed the written request.

If you are already at the informal hearing when you discover this, object to the proceedings on the record and ask to have the informal hearing be converted to a formal hearing where you may contest the material facts.  State this as many times as reasonably possible.

Preparing for an Informal Hearing

Since you are not contesting the facts alleged against you, if you are going to an informal hearing be sure you do the following:

  1. Be sure you know where the hearing is going to be held.  Try to stay the night before in the same hotel as the hearing will be held.  You will usually have to make these reservations early in order to get a room.
  2. Attend a Board meeting that occurs before the one at which your case is scheduled.  This will give you a feeling for the procedures that will be followed, will help to make you less nervous when you appear, and you can obtain continuing education units for doing so (be sure to sign in and sign out).  Be sure to attend one of the days when the disciplinary hearings are held.
  3. Dress professionally for the appearance.  This may be the most important event in your professional career.  For men, this means a suit and tie or, at least, a dark coat, dark slacks and a necktie.  For women, a professional business suit or the equivalent is in order.  Do not dress as if you are going to the park, the beach or out on a date.  Do not wear sexually provocative or revealing clothing.
  4. Check the agenda that is published on line a day or two before the scheduled hearing to make sure that your case is still scheduled for the date and time on the hearing notice.  Informal hearings may be moved around on the schedule.  Make sure you are there at the earliest time on the hearing notice or agenda.
  5. Listen to questions asked of you by Board members and attempt to answer them directly and succinctly.  You will be placed under oath for the proceeding and there will be a court reporter present as well as audio recording devices to take everything down.
  6. Do not argue with the Board members or lose your temper.  This is not the time or place to let this happen.  If you have such tendencies, then you should have an attorney there with you who can intercept some of the questions and can make defensive arguments (to the extent that they may be permitted) for you.
  7. You may introduce documents and evidence in mitigation.  However, you have agreed that the material facts alleged are true, so you may not contest these.  In effect, you have plead guilty and you are just arguing about how much punishment (discipline) and what kind of punishment you should receive.
  8. If you do intend to introduce documents and evidence in mitigation, be sure you know what the mitigating factors are (these are published in a separate board rule in the Florida Administrative Code for each professional board).  These may include, for example, the fact that there was no patient harm, that there was no monetary loss, that restitution has been made, the length of time the professional has been practicing, the absence of any prior discipline, etc.  You should submit these far ahead of time with a notice of filing, so that they are sent out to the board members with the other materials in your file.  This is another reason to have experienced counsel represent you at the informal hearing.
  9. Be prepared to take responsibility for your actions.  If you are not prepared to take responsibility, then this means you must believe you are innocent and you should be at a formal hearing, not an informal one.
  10. Be prepared to explain what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what remedial measures you have taken to prevent a recurrence of this type of event in the future.  Show that you have learned from this experience and that you are not going to make the same mistake again.
  11. It is our advice to always retain the services of an experienced attorney to represent you at such hearings.  Often your professional liability insurance will cover this.  If you have professional liability insurance, be sure that it contains a rider or addendum that provides coverage for professional license defense matters and administrative hearings.  You need at least $25,000 to $50,000 in coverage for this type of defense.  If necessary, you should contact your insurer or insurance agent and have the limits increased for a small additional premium

Other Little Known Facts to Remember

Professional licensing matters are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” in nature.  Therefore, you have your Fifth Amendment rights in relation to being required to give evidence against yourself.  You cannot be compelled to do this in such matters.  However, since it is an administrative proceeding and not a criminal proceeding, there is no requirement that the licensee be advised of this by a DOH investigator or attorney.

If you enter into a settlement agreement and attend the informal hearing to approve it, nothing you say or testify to at this hearing can later be used against you.  This is because you are involved in an attempt to negotiate and settle (or compromise) the claims being made against you.  It is a general rule of law that nothing the parties say in such settlement proceedings can later be used as evidence if the settlement agreement is not approved.  The law tries to promote settlements among parties to any dispute in this way.

It is true that on occasion the Board will examine a case on an informal hearing and will decide to dismiss it.  This is rare, but it does happen.  Sometimes, it will be a tactical decision on the part of you and your attorney to elect to go to an informal hearing with the hope that the Board may examine the case and decide to dismiss it.  However, you cannot count on this happening.

Don’t Wait Too Late;  Consult with an Experienced Health Law Attorney Early

Do not wait until action has been taken against you to consult with an experienced attorney in these matters.  Few cases are won on appeal.  It is much easier to win your case when there is proper time to prepare and you have requested a formal hearing so that you may actually dispute the facts being alleged against you.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing nurses, nurse practitioners, and CRNAs in investigations and at Board of Nursing hearings.  Call now or visit our website 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.comThe Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.