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).

Other Options Must Be Considered Before Emergency Suspension Order Will Be Upheld

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

The Department of Health (“DOH”) issued an emergency order suspending Burton’s license to practice nursing.

On appeal, the court quashed the emergency order. It held that DOH had failed to examine other disciplinary options available to it short of suspension. While recognizing DOH might be able to support license suspension as an appropriate penalty, it held that Burton was entitled to a hearing to contest the charges.

In the dissenting opinion, Judge Osterhaus cited numerous findings in the DOH order that supported suspension.

Source:

Burton v. Department of Health, 116 So. 3d 1285 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013) (Opinion filed July 24, 2013).

About the Author: The forgoing 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, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec. 2013).

Florida Woman Uses Forged License to Practice Nursing

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

A Florida woman allegedly used a fake state nursing license to pose as a nurse and then treat patients at their homes, according to the Lake County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office. The woman is accused of treating patients at least seven times, but the sheriff’s office stated there may be more victims. The fake nurse was arrested on September 27, 2013. She faces charges of working as a nurse without a license and using a forged state document.

To read the Orlando Sentinel article, click here.

This is not the woman’s first time in trouble with law enforcement. Earlier this year she was allegedly arrested for running an unlicensed assisted living facility (ALF), according to WFTV, the ABC affiliate in Orlando, Florida.

Used Another Nurse’s License Number to Dupe Employer.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the fake nurse was hired at TLC Home Care Facilities in Leesburg, Florida, in May 2013, after presenting the forged nurse license to her employer. Part of the phony nurse’s job was to treat patients at their home, including administering blood pressure checks and dispensing medications.

An audit of TLC Home Care facilities by the Department of Health (DOH) uncovered that the phony nurse was allegedly using the same nursing license number as a woman with a similar name. The legitimate nurse actually works at St. Petersburg General Hospital.

Fake Nurse Previously Arrested for Similar Charges.

In December 2012, the same woman was arrested for scheming to defraud and criminal use of personal information, according to WFTV.

Then in March 2013, the Florida Attorney General’s (AG) Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) arrested her again for running an unlicensed ALF. According to WFTV, the woman billed residents for more than $55,000 worth of services in spite of the fact she was operating a facility without a state-required license.

Click here to watch WFTV’s report.

More Stories on Fake Physicians and Other Fraudulent Professionals to Come.

In the near future on this blog we will include additional articles on fake doctors and health professionals.

To see a recent blog a fake Florida pharmacist sentenced to prison, click here. To read a blog on a phony dentist in Miami, click here. You can also read the blog on a fake plastic surgeon in New York by clicking here.

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?

Do you think it is too easy to forge a health care professional’s license? Should the home health facility be punished for not doing a thorough background check? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Comas, Martin. “Woman Used Forged Documents to Work as a Nurse, Deputies Say.” Orlando Sentinel. (September 27, 2013). From: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-woman-assumed-nurse-identity-20130927,0,395526.story

Hughes, Ryan. “Deputies: Woman Pretending to be Nurse has been in Trouble Before.” WFTV. (September 27, 2013). From: http://www.wftv.com/videos/news/deputies-woman-pretending-to-be-nurse-has-been-in/vCDXSX/
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.

The Collateral Effects of Discipline on Your Nursing License

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

A. A case involving an arrest or a conviction involving alcohol abuse (DUI/public Intoxication) or drugs (possession, diversion, theft, trafficking) will probably result in an emergency suspension order (ESO) until the entire licensure case is complete.

B. Client may be required to be evaluated and probably enrolled in the Impaired Nurses Program (IPN) (for nurses only) or the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) (for all other licensed health professionals), which is usually at least a five year contract.

C. Action to revoke, suspend or take other action against the clinical privileges and medical staff membership of those licensed health professionals who may have such in a hospital, ambulatory surgical center, skilled nursing facility, or staff model HMO or clinic. This will usually be advance registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) and certified registered nurse anesthetists.

D. Mandatory report to the National Practitioner Data Base (NPDB) (Note: Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank or HIPDB recently folded into NPDB) which remains there for 50 years.

E. Must be reported to and included in the Department of Health (DOH) profile that is available to the public online (for those having one), and remains for at least 10 years.

F. Any other states or jurisdictions in which the client has a license will also initiate action against him or her in that jurisdiction. (Note: I have had two clients who had licenses in seven other states).

G. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will take action to exclude the provider from the Medicare Program. If this occurs (and most of these offenses require mandatory exclusion) the provider will be placed on the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) maintained by the HHS OIG.

H. If the above occurs, the provider is also automatically “debarred” or prohibited from participating in any capacity in any federal contracting and is placed on the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) debarment list.

I. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will act to revoke the professional’s DEA registration if he or she has one.

J. The certified health professional’s certify organization will act to revoke his or her certification.

K. Third party payors (health insurance companies, HMOs, etc.) will terminate the professional’s contract or panel membership with that organization.

L. Any profile maintained by a national organization or federation (e.g., American Medical Association physician profile or Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy profile) will include the conviction.

M. Regardless of any of the above, any facility licensed by AHCA (hospitals, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), public health clinics, public health clinics, group homes for the developmentally disabled, etc.) that are required to perform background screenings on their employees will result in AHCA notifying the facility and the professional that he or she is disqualified from employment.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses.

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

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

What Nurses Need to Know about Florida Law and HIV Testing

indest9By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Section 381.004, Florida Statutes, provides for an increased level of protection of medical records that contain human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) test results. The super confidentiality requirements imposed by Florida law are viewed as the precautions which must be taken both before an HIV test can be performed and after the HIV test is performed to ensure patient confidentiality.

Pre-Test Requirements.

The administration of an HIV test requires the informed consent of the patient for whom the HIV results will be obtained. No person in Florida may order an HIV test without first obtaining the informed consent of the person upon whom the test is being performed. Section 381.004(3)(a), Florida Statutes. Consent need not be in writing if the medical record documents that consent was given. Section 381.004(3)(a), Florida Statutes. Informed consent must be preceded by an explanation of the right to confidential treatment of information identifying the subject of the test and the results of the test to the extent provided by law. Information must also be provided on the fact that a positive HIV test result will be reported to the county health department with sufficient information to identify the test subject and on the availability and location of sites at which anonymous testing is performed.

Post-Test Requirements.

Notification – Once an HIV test has been administered, there are a number of statutorily prescribed steps that a health care professional must follow. All reasonable efforts must be made to notify the test subject of his or her test result. Section 381.004(3)(c), Florida Statutes. Notification of a person with a positive test result will include information on the availability of appropriate medical and support services, the importance of notifying partners who may have been exposed, and preventing the transmission of HIV. When testing occurs in a hospital emergency department, detention facility, or other facility and the test subject has been released before being notified of positive test results, informing the county health department for that department to notify the test subject fulfills this responsibility. No test result shall be determined as positive, and no positive test result shall be revealed to any person, without corroborating or confirmatory tests being conducted except in the following situations:

1. Preliminary test results may be released to licensed physicians or the

medical or nonmedical personnel subject to the significant exposure for purposes of
subparagraphs (3)(h)10., 11., and 12.

2. Preliminary test results may be released to health care providers and to the
person tested when decisions about medical care or treatment of, or recommendation to, the person tested and, in the case of an intrapartum or postpartum woman, when care, treatment, or recommendations regarding her newborn, cannot await the results of confirmatory testing. Positive preliminary HIV test results shall not be characterized to the patient as a diagnosis of HIV infection. Justification for the use of preliminary test results must be documented in the medical record by the health care provider who ordered the test. This subparagraph does not authorize the release of preliminary test results for the purpose of routine identification of HIV-infected individuals or when HIV testing is incidental to the preliminary diagnosis or care of a patient. Corroborating or confirmatory testing must be conducted as followup to a positive preliminary test. Results shall be communicated to the patient according to statute regardless of the outcome. Except as provided in this section, test results are confidential and exempt from the provisions of Section. 119.07(1), Florida Statutes. Section 381.004(3)(d), Florida Statutes.

Confidentiality.

Once an HIV test has been performed and the results have been obtained, confidentiality must be preserved. The identity of any person upon whom a test has been performed and test results must be held confidential. Section 381.004(3)(e), Florida Statutes. No person who has obtained or has knowledge of an HIV test result may disclose or be compelled to disclose the identity of any person upon whom a test is performed, or the results of such a test in a manner which permits identification of the subject of the test,
except for the following reasons:

1. Patient Release. Consent for disclosure by the subject may be obtained in
a “legally effective release.” Section 381.004(3)(e)(1-2), Florida Statutes.

2. Authorized agents or employees of providers and facilities. Personnel
within a single facility or provider are authorized to disclose to each other
on a “need to know” basis.

3. Health care consultation. Health care providers that are not employees of
the same provider or facility may disclose HIV test results to each other
without the subject’s consent, provided they are involved in the care or
treatment of the test subject and the consultation is for the purpose of the
patient’s diagnosis or treatment. 381.004(3)(e)(4), Florida Statutes.

4. Department of Health. The Department may share HIV test results “in
accordance with rules for reporting and controlling the spread of disease,
as permitted by state law.” 381.004(3)(e)(5), Florida Statutes.

5. Transfer of body parts. Health care facilities and providers who transfer
body parts and semen, for the purposes of artificial insemination, may
disclose HIV test results to each other. 381.0041, Florida Statutes.

6. Health facility staff committees may disclose HIV test results for the
purposes of conducting program monitoring, program evaluation, or
service reviews pursuant to Chapters 395 and 766, Florida Statutes.

7. Research. HIV test results may be disclosed to authorized medical and
epidemiological researchers who are then prohibited from disclosing any
identifying characteristics or information regarding test subjects. Section
381.004(3)(e)(8), Florida Statutes.

8. Court Orders. Subpoenas are not sufficient under Florida law for the
release of HIV test results. A court order must be obtained and this
process is not easily accomplished. A “compelling need” must be
demonstrated by the individual seeking the results and the court must
balance this need against the test subject’s privacy rights as well as
public’s interests in privacy.

9. Workers’ Compensation. An administrative law judge of compensation
claims of the Division of Workers’ Compensation may authorize
disclosure of HIV test results, but only upon a finding that the person
seeking the test results has demonstrated a compelling need for the results.

10. Custodians of Children. Under Section 381.004(3)(e)(11), Florida
Statutes, there are three classes of persons allowed access to HIV test
results:

a. Department personnel and other employees “directly
involved in the placement, care, control or custody” of
the tested child who demonstrate a need to know;

b. Adoptive parents of the tested subject; or

c. An adult custodian, relative or other person responsible
for the child’s welfare if the parent or legal guardian
cannot be reasonably located and informed of the test
result.

Oral Disclosure.

Oral disclosure of HIV test results shall be accompanied by oral notice and followed by a written notice within 10 days. This written notice shall include the following statement: “This information has been disclosed to you from records whose confidentiality is protected by state law. State law prohibits you from making any further disclosure of such information without the specific written consent of the person to whom such information pertains, or as otherwise permitted by state law. A general authorization for the release of medical or other information is NOT sufficient for this purpose.” Section 381.004(3)(f).

Penalties.

Any violation of this section by a facility or a licensed health care provider is grounds for
disciplinary action contained in the facility’s or professional’s respective licensing chapter. Any person who violates the confidentiality provisions commits a misdemeanor of the first degree. Any person who obtains information that identifies an individual who has a sexually transmissible disease, including human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, who knew or should have known the nature of the information and maliciously, or for monetary gain, disseminates this information or otherwise makes this information known to any other person, except by providing it either to a physician or to a nurse employed by the department or to a law enforcement agency, commits a felony of the third degree. Section 381.004(6), Florida Statutes

Conclusion.

The use of tests designed to reveal a condition indicative of human immunodeficiency virus infection is a valuable tool in protecting the public health. Many members of the public are deterred from seeking such testing because they misunderstand the nature of the test or fear that test results will be disclosed without their consent. The laws imposed on the super confidentiality of HIV testing are intended to benefit the public health and the public will be benefited by the nursing profession, when those nurses serve by facilitating informed, voluntary, and confidential use of tests designed to detect human immunodeficiency virus infection.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Department of Justice (DOJ) 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 © 1996-2012 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.

 

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.

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

By Lance Leider, J.D.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. Failing to forward a complete copy of the patient medical record when subpoenaed by the DOH investigator as part of the investigation, when no objection is going to be filed.

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

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

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

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

14. Failing to check to see if their medical malpractice insurance carrier will pay the legal fees to defend them in this investigation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23. Attempting to defend themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to nurses and nurse practitioners in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.   To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: Lance O. Leider, J.D. is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

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

By Lance Leider, J.D.

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

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

Nurses, Investigators are NOT on Your Side.

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

Protecting Yourself and Your License.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Determining the Purpose of the Investigation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before Saying ANYTHING Be Sure to Consult an Attorney.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Nurses.

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

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

About the Author: Lance O. Leider, J.D. is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

Preparing for a Deposition for Nurses

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

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

Before the Deposition 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the Deposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After your Deposition 

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses at Depositions.

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

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

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