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).

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Terrible Things That Can Happen after Discipline on Your Nursing License or Resignation of a Nursing License after Notice of Investigation

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

Do you have nursing licenses in several different states? Do you have a license in more than one health profession? Have you been notified that an investigation has been opened against you? Are you thinking about resigning your nursing license or voluntarily relinquishing such a license? Then you must be aware of the following.

First, you should never voluntarily relinquish or resign your license after you know that an investigation has been opened or that disciplinary action has been taken against you. Such a resignation is considered to be a “disciplinary relinquishment” and is treated the same as if your license had been revoked on disciplinary grounds.

Second, this will be reported out to other states, agencies, to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), to any certifying bodies for certifications you have and to other reporting agencies (such as the National Council of State Boards of Nursing for its NURSYS data bank). Other states and other professional boards will most likely initiate disciplinary action based upon the first one.

Protect Your Nursing License from These Adverse Actions.

The following is a list of some of the adverse actions that you can expect to be taken against you after discipline on your license or after you resign your nursing license after receiving notice of investigation:

1. A mandatory report to the National Practitioner Data Base (NPDB) which remains there for 50 years. Note: The Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank or HIPDB recently merged into the NPDB.

2. 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 ten years.

3. Any other states or jurisdictions in which the nurse has a license will also initiate investigation and possible disciplinary action against him or her in that jurisdiction. (Note: I have had two clients who had licenses in seven other states and all, even ones that were inactive or not renewed years ago, initiated action).

4. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. 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.

a. If this happens, you are prohibited by law from working in any position in any capacity for any individual or business, including hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, physicians, medical groups, insurance companies, etc., that contract with or bill Medicare or Medicaid. This means, for example, you are prohibited from working as a janitor in a nursing home that accepts Medicare or Medicaid, even as an independent contractor.

b. If this happens, you are also automatically “debarred” or prohibited from participating in any capacity in any federal contracting, and you are placed on the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) debarment list. This means you are prohibited by law from working in any capacity for any government contractor or anyone who takes government funding. This applies, for example, to prevent you from being a real estate agent involved in selling property financed by a government backed loan, prohibited from working for an electrical company that bids on contracts for government housing projects, working as a school teacher in a public school, etc.

c. If this happens, your state Medicaid Program is required to terminate you “for cause” from the state Medicaid Program. In many states, this is also grounds for revocation of your nursing license.

5. Any profile or reporting system maintained by a national organization or federation (e.g., NURSYS profile maintained by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing) will include the adverse action in it, generally available to the public.

6. If you are a nurse practitioner or other professional with clinical privileges at a hospital, nursing home, HMO or clinic, action will be taken to revoke or suspend the clinical privileges and staff membership if you have such. This may be in a hospital, ambulatory surgical center, skilled nursing facility, staff model HMO or clinic. This will usually be for advance registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), nurse midwives or certified nurse anesthetists (CNAs).

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

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

9. Many employers will not hire you or will terminate your employment if they discover your license has been disciplined in another state.

What Should You Do?

– Don’t take the easy way out by immediately relinquishing your license if you are notified you are under investigation.

– Don’t hide your head in the sand by thinking the case will just go away on its own.

– Don’t take the easy way out. If you are innocent of the charges, request a formal hearing and contest the charges; defend yourself.

– Do not request an informal hearing or a settlement agreement in which you admit the facts alleged against you are all true. If you do this, you are “pleading guilty.”

– Do immediately seek the advice of an attorney who has experience in such professional licensing matters and administrative hearings. They are out there, but you may have to search for one. Do this as soon as you get notice of any investigation and especially before you have talked to or made any statement (including a written one) to any investigator.

– Do purchase professional liability insurance that includes legal defense coverage for any professional license investigation against you, whether it is related to a malpractice claim or not. This insurance is cheap and will provide needed legal assistance at the time when you may be out of a job and not have money to hire an attorney. Beware of the insurance policy that only covers professional license defense if it is related to a malpractice claim.

A Health Lawyer’s Opinion on Professional Liability Insurance.

We strongly encourage all licensed health professionals and facilities to purchase their own, independent insurance coverage. Make sure it covers professional license defense under all circumstances. Make sure you have enough coverage to actually get you through a hearing. $25,000 coverage for just professional licensure defense is the absolute minimum you should purchase; $50,000 may be adequate but $75,000 or $100,000 may be what you really need in such a situation. For a few dollars more (and I do mean only a few) you can usually purchase the higher limits.

Also, I will repeat, make sure it covers your legal defense in an administrative disciplinary proceeding against your license, even if there is no malpractice claim filed against you or likely to be filed against you.

We also recommend that you purchase coverage through an insurance company that allows you to select your own attorney and does not make you use one that the insurance company picks for you.

Companies we have encountered in the past who provide an inexpensive top quality insurance product for professional license defense costs include: CPH & Associates Insurance, Nurses Service Organization (NSO) Insurance, Healthcare Providers Organization (HPSO) Insurance and Lloyd’s of London Insurance.

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.

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

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

Tips, Pointers and Reminders for Administrative Hearings

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

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

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

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

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

Our Tips, Pointers and Reminders for Administrative Hearings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses Administrative Hearings.

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

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

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

The 27 Biggest Mistakes Nurses Make in Department of Health Investigations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24. Attempting to defend themselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Assisted Living Facility Cases.

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

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

Sources Include:

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

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

Nurses: Don’t Work at an Illegal Health Care Clinic

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

Despite the passage of Florida’s Health Care Clinic Act over nine years ago, there are still many health practices which are violating it. Unfortunately, the violation of the Health Care Clinic Act can have serious repercussions, including conviction of a felony, loss of all fees collected, and disciplinary/licensure action against any nurses or other licensed health professionals working there.

Over the past three years we have seen the following scenarios or ones similar to these (changed factually to ensure anonymity):

Scenario 1: A health care practitioner licensed in Florida decides to sell her practice and retire. Three non-licensed business people decide to form a corporation to purchase and operate the practice. The corporation purchases the medical practice’s assets, including patient records. The corporation has not applied for or received a health care clinic license.

Results: On the day of closing or the day the practice is transferred to the new corporation, the corporation is operating illegally, in violation of Florida law. Each day of operation is a separate felony.

Scenario 2: A health care professional practices medicine through a limited liability company (LLC) which the he owns with his non-licensed wife. The health care professional dies and his wife remains sole owner of the practice, hiring a locum tenens physician to come in and treat patients.

Results: As of the date of death of the health care professional, the practice is operating illegally, in violation of Florida law. Each day of operations is a separate felony offense.

Scenario 3: A health care professional licensed in Florida operates a medical practice as a sole proprietorship. The health care professional desires to reward her practice manager, a non-licensed business person, by making him a partner in her practice. The practice continues to operate as before without a health care clinic license.

Results: The practice is operating illegally as of the day the practice manager is made a partner.

Scenario 4: A health care professional has a medical practice which he owns and operates through a business corporation which does not need or have a health care clinic license. He decides to relocate to another state. He sells the shares of stock to a medical doctor who is licensed in Georgia, but is not licensed in Florida. The new physician owner hires a medical doctor licensed in Florida to deliver all medical services in the Florida practice.

Results: The corporation, its owner, and the physician employee are operating illegally as of the date the shares in the corporation are transferred. Each day of operation constitutes a new offense.

The consequences of such actions are severe. The act provides that violating it constitutes a felony of the third degree for each day of operation. Any licensed health professional having knowledge of the unlicensed status of the practice or clinic and who does not immediately report it can be disciplined by his or her professional board. Any fees of any kind collected from any source, Medicare, Medicaid, insurers, or cash from patients, are considered illegal as a matter of law and are subject to recoupment or refund.

If you are a nurse or other licensed health professional, be sure you know who the actual owners of the medical practice are. If any are not licensed in Florida, inquire as to the existence of a current, valid health care clinic license from the Agency for Health Care Administration. If any doubt or suspicion, consult with an experienced health care attorney.

Don’t Wait Too Late;  Consult with an Experienced Health Law Attorney At the Onset of Any Issue

Do not wait until action has been taken against you to consult with an experienced attorney in these matters. It is much easier to win your case when there is proper time to prepare.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm are experienced in representing nurses, nurse practitioners, and CRNAs in investigations, IPN matters and at Board of Nursing hearings.  Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Case Law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are many other cases which have held the same.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Disciplinary Actions are Initiated Against a Florida Nurse

There are many possible grounds for which disciplinary action may be initiated against a nurse in Florida.  It is important to be familiar with these so that you can avoid them.

You should review and be very familiar with all of the Florida laws and the Florida Board of Nursing’s Rules that appear in the Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.).  These may all be accesses through the Florida Board of Nursing’s website:  www.doh.state.fl.us/mqa/nursing/.  Look for the menu item “Laws and Rules” and click on this.

The laws which set forth various grounds for discipline include:

Chapter 456, Florida Statutes (which applies to all licensed health professionals).

Chapter 464, Florida Statutes (the Nurse Practice Act).

Chapter 64B9, Florida Administrative Code (Rules adopted by the Board of Nursing).

Basically, a nurse may be disciplined for any violation of the Nurse Practice Act, for any violation of Chapter 456, Florida Statutes, for violation of any Rule of the Board of Nursing (Chapter 64B9, F.A.C.), for violation of any law applicable to nurses or nursing, or for violation of any final order of the Board of Nursing or Department of Health.  The most ambiguous of these tends to be actions of the nurse which fail to meet “minimal standards of acceptable and prevailing nursing practice” (sometimes called “falling below the standard of nursing practice” or “substandard performance”), as stated in Section 464.018, Florida Statutes.

Acts that Result in Disciplinary Action Against a Nursing License

Disciplinary action may be taken against the nurse’s license, through administrative proceedings, under the following circumstances, as provided by Section 464.018, Florida Statutes:

1. Procuring, attempting to procure, or renewing a license to practice nursing by bribery, by knowing misrepresentations, or through an error of the department or the board;

2. Having a license to practice nursing revoked, suspended, or otherwise acted against, including the denial of licensure, by the licensing authority of another state, territory, or country;

3. Being convicted or found guilty of, or entering a plea of nolo contendere to, regardless of adjudication, a crime in any jurisdiction which directly relates to the practice of nursing or to the ability to practice nursing;

4. Being found guilty, regardless of adjudication, of any of the following offenses:

  • A forcible felony as defined in Chapter 776, Florida Statutes;
  • A violation of Chapter 812, Florida Statutes, relating to theft, robbery, and related crimes;
  • A violation of Chapter 817, relating to fraudulent practices;
  • A violation of Chapter 800, relating to lewdness and indecent exposure;
  • A violation of Chapter 784, Florida Statutes, relating to assault, battery, and culpable negligence;
  • A violation of Chapter 827, Florida Statutes, relating to child abuse;
  • A violation of Chapter 415, Florida Statutes, relating to protection from abuse, neglect, and exploitation; and
  • A violation of Chapter 39, Florida Statutes, relating to child abuse, abandonment, and neglect.

5. Having been found guilty of, regardless of adjudication, or entered a plea of nolo contendere or guilty to, any offense prohibited under Section 435.03, Florida Statutes, or under any similar statute of another jurisdiction; or having committed an act which constitutes domestic violence as defined in Section 741.28, Florida Statutes;

6. Making or filing a false report or record, which the licensee knows to be false, intentionally or negligently failing to file a report or record required by state or federal law, willfully impeding or obstructing such filing or inducing another person to do so. Such reports or records shall include only those which are signed in the nurse’s capacity as a licensed nurse;

7. False, misleading, or deceptive advertising;

8. Unprofessional conduct, as defined by board rule;

9. Engaging or attempting to engage in the possession, sale, or distribution of controlled substances as set forth in chapter 893, for any other than legitimate purposes authorized by this part;

10. Being unable to practice nursing with reasonable skill and safety to patients by reason of illness or use of alcohol, drugs, narcotics, or chemicals or any other type of material or as a result of any mental or physical condition;

11. Failing to report to the department any person who the licensee knows is in violation of this part or of the rules of the department or the board; however, if the licensee verifies that such person is actively participating in a board-approved program for the treatment of a physical or mental condition, the licensee is required to report such person only to an impaired professionals consultant;

12. Knowingly violating any provision of this part, a rule of the board or the department, or a lawful order of the board or department previously entered in a disciplinary proceeding or failing to comply with a lawfully issued subpoena of the department;

13. Failing to report to the department any licensee under Chapter 458 or under Chapter 459, Florida Statutes, who the nurse knows has violated the grounds for disciplinary action set out in the law under which that person is licensed and who provides health care services in a facility licensed under Chapter 395, Florida Statutes, or a health maintenance organization certificated under part I of Chapter 641, Florida Statutes, in which the nurse also provides services;

14. Failing to meet minimal standards of acceptable and prevailing nursing practice, including engaging in acts for which the licensee is not qualified by training or experience; and

15. Violating any provision of this Chapter or Chapter 456, Florida Statutes, or any rules adopted pursuant thereto.

Section 456.072, Florida Statutes, which applies to nurses and all other licensed health professionals, also provides a list of grounds for disciplinary action against a nurse’s license. This information can be found here.

Contact an Experienced Health Attorney Familiar with Nursing Law Issues

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm have experience in representing nurses in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing nurses, nurse practitioners, and CRNAs in investigations and at Board of Nursing hearings.  Call us now at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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

Please, Please, Please Do NOT Talk to the Department of Health (DOH) Investigator

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

Whether you are a nurse, physician, pharmacist or dentist, I beseech you: please do not talk to a Department of Health (DOH) investigator until you have talked to a health lawyer who is experienced with DOH investigations and board licensing complaints.  Do not answer or respond to even the most basic questions about where you work now, what your address is or if you know patient x, until consulting with counsel.

Admitting to the Simplest Facts May Harm You.

We are routinely consulted by nursing professionals and other healthcare providers for representation after they have discussed the case and after it is too late to undo the damage they have caused to themselves.  Often they do not understand the seriousness of the matter or the possible consequences, until it is too late. Admitting to even the most basic facts causes damage to any possible defense.

Administrative Licensure Investigations are “Quasi-Criminal.”

The vast majority of nurses and even most attorneys do not realize that DOH investigations concerning complaints against a nurse’s licences are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” proceedings.  This means the same laws and constitutional rights apply to them as apply to criminal investigations.  However, since they are also administrative proceedings and not strictly criminal proceedings, investigators do not need to advise you of your Miranda rights or tell you you have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, etc.

In any criminal investigation a good criminal defense attorney would always tell you “Do not talk to the investigator” and “Tell the investigator you have a lawyer.”

Investigators’ Techniques Try to Get You to not Consult a Lawyer.

DOH investigators, like police investigators, FBI investigators and other law enforcement officers, are well-trained in investigative techniques and how to get information out of suspects.  Often the approach used is to catch you by surprise before you even know there is an investigation and the investigation is of you.  Another technique used is to lull you into a false sense of security that the investigation is about someone or something else and not you.  Another investigative technique is to convince you that you need to “Tell your side of the story” so that the investigation is accurate.  Yet another is that “Things will go much better for you if you cooperate.”  None of these things are true.

However, if it is truly in your best interest to cooperate or to make a statement, after you consult with your attorney, your legal counsel will surely advise you to do this.  The investigator should not mind waiting until you consult your attorney.  However, many will go to extremes to convince you that you don’t need an attorney and shouldn’t get an attorneys.

Consult an Experienced Health Law Attorney.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm are experienced in dealing with DOH investigators, AHCA surveyors, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, FBI agents, police and sheriff’s office investigators, OIG special agents (S/As) and Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigators.  Call or contact The Health Law Firm for legal advice before you talk to any investigator about any matter.

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

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

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

Preparing for an Informal Hearing Before the Board of Nursing

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

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

Limited Circumstances for Informal Administrative Hearing

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

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

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

What an Informal Administrative Hearing Is Not

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

Formal Administrative Hearing vs. Informal Hearing

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for an Informal Hearing

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

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

Other Little Known Facts to Remember

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

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

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

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

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

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing nurses, nurse practitioners, and CRNAs in investigations and at Board of Nursing hearings.  Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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