At Board of Nursing Hearing, Each Aggravating Factor Must be Supported by “Competent Substantial Evidence” or Discipline Is reversible on Appeal

The foregoing case summary was prepared by Mary F. Smallwood, Esquire, of The Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar.

The Department of Health, Board of Nursing (“Board”) filed charges against Fernandez for administering medication to a person who was not his patient. The facts demonstrated that Fernandez had visited a friend in the hospital and administered a drug prescribed for one of his home health care patients. After an administrative hearing, the Board found that five aggravating circumstances justified an upward departure in the penalty provided for the Board’s guidelines to license revocation.

On appeal, the court reversed. While it found support for four of the aggravating circumstances cited by the Board, it held that one of the circumstances was not supported by competent substantial evidence. Specifically, the Board had determined that Fernandez’ actions had caused damage to the patient. The court found the only support for this determination was testimony in the hearing transcript that the court characterized as “speculation.” Since the court concluded that it was unclear whether the Board would have revoked Fernandez’ license absent the determination of damage to the patient, it reversed in part and remanded for the Board to reconsider the penalty without the unsupported aggravating circumstance.

Source:

Fernandez v. Department of Health, 120 So. 3d 117 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013) (Opinion filed August 14, 2013).

About the Author: The foregoing case summary was prepared by Mary F. Smallwood, Esquire, of The Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar. It originally appeared in the Administrative Law Section Newsletter, Col. 36, No. 2 (Dec. 2013).

Appealing Final Orders and Emergency Suspension Orders (ESOs) from the Florida Board of Nursing

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

The 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, after they received a letter from a DOH investigator advising that they were being investigated, to not worry about putting together or presenting any defense at that stage.  We often hear that they consulted an attorney who advised them not to dispute the charges at a formal administrative hearing or not to request 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 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 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.

In many cases, it would be completely useless to appeal an ESO.  You would just waste time and money by doing so, with little or no chance to win or have it reversed.  You might be far better off requesting an expedited formal hearing, to which you are entitled in an emergency suspension case, and get your case heard as soon as possible.  You need the advice and guidance of an experienced attorney to help you figure out what the best course of action is in your case.

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 ESO or Final Order than an appeal.  If you are subject to an ESO, 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.  This would require you to file a motion for reconsideration with the Board itself.

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 $100 per year.  However, if you can get additional coverage, $50,000 is more likely to cover any foreseeable investigations, hearings and appeals.  Even higher limits can be purchased for a few dollars more from many insurance companies.

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 the attorneys of The Health Law Firm to set up a consultation on any of the above issues. To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

Did you find this blog helpful? 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.

New Immigration Law in Georgia Slows Down License Renewal Process for Doctors and Nurses

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

Hundreds of Georgia health providers are without a professional license to practice, because a new immigration law is causing massive backups in paperwork, according to a number of sources. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011 or House Bill 87 went into effect on January 1, 2012, and requires every person to prove his or her citizenship or legal residency when the individual renews his or her license.

To read House Bill 87 in its entirety, click here.

With all of the extra paperwork required and too few staff members at the reviewing state agencies, many licenses are expiring before they can be renewed. Shortages of staff are being reported at the Georgia Secretary of State’s office and Georgia’s Medical Board. Licenses being affected include licenses for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health providers are falling through the cracks and expiring. According to a Kaiser Health News story released November 12, 2012, there’s not much that can be done to speed up the process.

So Far Georgia House Bill 87 Is Creating Confusion and Issues for Citizens.

Georgia House Bill 87 was aimed at blocking illegal immigrants from getting benefits but instead has created lots of confusion, according to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For example, when people are confused about the requirements and fail to not submit copies of acceptable identification, then their professional licenses expire and they are not legally allowed to practice.

It is reported that some individuals, instead of forwarding copies of photo identification, are sending photos of animals or pornography into the state’s online system. Officials believe this is either a form of protest or a joke, either way it slows down the review process.

To read the article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, click here.

Providers Be Aware of Medicare Conditions of Participation.

Providers need to be forewarned that if their licenses are expired Medicare conditions of participation (COPs) prohibit billing for services provided. If a service was provided while the license was expired, be prepared to refund the overpayments.

Around 1,300 Doctors and Nurses Cannot Practice Due to Incorrect
Paperwork.

Last year, the secretary of state’s office received more than 49,000 new applications for licenses and since 2008 the state licensing division has lost almost 40 staff members.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the average time it takes for the state to process new license applications has jumped from 60 days to 70 days. The same goes for renewal applications. It used to take two days to renew a license, but now it takes 10 days.

According to Kaiser Health News, it’s estimated that 1,300 doctors, nurses and other health professionals have lost their ability to work either because they did not send in the correct paperwork, or they are stuck in the backlog of work.

The same article stated so far the new document requirements have yet to find any illegal immigrants.

Click here to read the entire article from Kaiser Health News.

Georgia Nursing and Pharmacy Associations Warning Members of Delays.

The Georgia Nursing Association and the Georgia Pharmacy Association are monitoring this situation closely. The pharmacy association has been informing members about the new identification requirements and urging them to not put off applying for their licences.

Click here to see a warning about the process from the Georgia Pharmacy Association.

Contact Health Law Attorneys With Experience Handling Licensing Issues.
If you have had a license suspended or revoked, or are facing imminent action against your license, it is imperative that you contact an experienced healthcare attorney to assist you in defending your career.  Remember, your license is your livelihood, it is not recommended that you attempt to pursue these matters without the assistance of an attorney.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, medical groups, clinics, and other healthcare providers in personal and facility licensing issues all over the country.

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

Comments?

As a health professional what   do you think about this new law in Georgia? Do you think it is ridiculous or a necessary process? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Burress, Jim. “Doctors’ And Nurses’ Licenses Snagged By New Immigration Law In Georgia.” Kaiser Health News, WABE, Atlanta and NPR. (November 12, 2012). From: http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2012/November/12/Georgia-immigration.aspx

Redmon, Jeremy. “New ID Law Gums Up Licensing Process.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. (October 15, 2012). From: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/new-id-law-gums-up-licensing-process/nSc6g/

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.

Overcoming License Suspension and Revocation Pending Appeal

By: Lance O. Leider, J.D.

If you are a doctor, nurse, dentist, psychologist, pharmacist, massage therapist or other licensed health professional whose license has been recently revoked or suspended, there may still be hope. Ordinarily, you must immediately stop practicing or you risk being prosecuted for unlicensed practice, a felony. Although this blog deals with Florida law, similar relief may be available in other states, too.

One of the hardest things about having a license suspended or revoked is that it immediately cuts off the licensee’s sole source of income. If you have a thriving practice, this will usually destroy any value your business has. Without income, paying your bills will be a challenge, much less the cost to fight the legal action or to appeal.

Even if you appeal the decision and win the appeal, you will be out of practice for many months, often more than a year, before your license is reinstated. You still have all the lost income and business, and you never get this time and money back.

Fortunately, Florida law provides an avenue for temporary relief from the adverse decision, so that you may retain your license and practice your profession pending appeal of your case. This legal process is called a writ of supersedeas.

What is Supersedeas Relief?

Supersedeas relief is a form of relief granted by a reviewing court (court of appeal) that suspends the enforcement of the judgement of the lower court (or agency) while the underlying issues are decided on appeal. What this means is that you can have the action to revoke or suspend your license put on hold while you appeal the decision of the Department of Health (DOH).

This relief is authorized in two separate places in Florida law: Section 120.68(3), Florida Statutes, and Rule 9.190(e)(2)(C), Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure. Both of these provisions state that a reviewing court can grant a stay of enforcement of the revocation or suspension of a license pending review.

The relief is not automatic, however. Both provisions specifically prevent supersedeas from being granted if the licensee poses a probable threat to the health, safety or welfare of the state. Fortunately, it is the burden of the agency whose order is being reviewed to prove that there is a danger to the public.

Additionally, the Appellate Rule permits you to ask for expedited review. (Which of course is recommended because you want to be back to work as quickly as possible, right?) This means that the agency only has ten (10) days to file its opposition. This shortened time period may make it difficult for an overworked government attorney to file on time or to produce quality opposition.

Steps to Seeking Supersedeas Relief.

1. File an appeal of the Final Order revoking or suspending your license with the appropriate agency and a copy to the appellate court. Be sure to follow all appellate rules and instructions.

2. File a Petition for Expedited Supersedeas Relief with the appellate court at the same time.

3. If you receive a favorable ruling from the court, deliver that order to the licensing agency (in this case, the DOH) and request that your license be reinstated immediately.

Other Considerations.

It is important to note that this form of relief will not make the underlying action disappear. Your return to practice will only be temporary, unless you win the appeal. You will still have to show the licensing agency did something contrary to law when it imposed the discipline in order for the appellate court to overturn the decision. This is not often an easy task. Furthermore, the law only permits a thirty (30) day window in which to appeal the agency’s decision, after which your rights are lost and you are very likely stuck with the decision.

Appeals Are Very Technical and Require a Thorough, Specialized Knowledge of the Law.

What few people understand is that appeals are very technical and have complex, procedural rules that you must follow. An appeal of an agency final order is not the place to argue about the facts of your case or to try to prove different facts.

An appeal is all about the law and the court cases that have interpreted the law. Unless the agency (in this case your board) made a legal error and violated the law, you won’t win.

For an appeal, a person needs an attorney. To prevail on an appeal, you must have a detailed knowledge of the correct, relevant court cases and you must be able to argue these in the proper form in legal briefs.

There are many other procedural steps you must follow in an appeal that only a good appellate attorney will know. To attempt to do this yourself is not advisable.

Contact Health Law Attorneys With Experience Handling Licensing Issues.

If you have had a license suspended or revoked, or are facing imminent action against your license, it is imperative that you contact an experienced healthcare attorney to assist you in defending your career. Remember, your license is your livelihood, it is not recommended that you attempt to pursue these matters without the assistance of an attorney.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, dentists, nurses, medical groups, clinics, and other healthcare providers in personal and facility licensing issues.

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 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 Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 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.