Nurses: Contact The Health Law Firm for Representation in Last Minute Depositions and Hearings

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

We often receive calls from health professionals, including registered nurses (RNs), advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), nurse midwives and nurse practitioners regarding the possibility of representing them on short notice at a Board of Nursing hearing, or at a deposition related to a health care matter.

We Take Last Minute Cases.

Many law firms refuse to represent a client at a hearing unless given plenty of advance notice and preparation time. We, also, always prefer to have sufficient time to obtain documents, review files, interview witnesses, conduct research and prepare, in order to provide our clients the best possible representation. But we realize that in certain cases, the alternative is that the client either gets legal representation on little or no advance notice, or has to suffer the consequences of having no legal representation.

We may do this too, if we believe the case is too complex for us to represent you effectively on such short notice or that any legal representation would be completely futile. However, often this is not the situation.

Administrative Proceedings Can be Very Complex.

In some cases individuals responding to a disciplinary complaint may be fooled into believing that they can effectively represent themselves. They later find out that they have gotten into waters over their heads. Laypersons (meaning, in this case, nonlawyers) who are not aware of such complex matters as the Administrative Procedure Act, the Rules of Civil Procedure, the Rules of Evidence, the Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.) Rules which the Board of Nursing and the Department of Health (DOH) have enacted, may quickly be perplexed and at wit’s end. Often the individual may only figure this out days or weeks before the final hearing.

The inexperienced individual, or even the inexperienced attorney, in these matters can fall into a number of procedural traps that damage an effective defense. This can be advising the individual to talk to the Department of Health (DOH) investigator, filing an unnecessary answer to an Administrative Complaint, forgetting or not knowing that the client’s right to be free of self-incrimination applies in this type of case and many others.

Procedural Mistakes Can Be Damaging To Your Defense.

Often you will find that merely having an experienced attorney to represent you at a hearing or Board meeting will assist you in avoiding mistakes that damage your case and assist you in preserving your rights for an appeal. In other cases it may even be possible to obtain a change in forum to obtain a better result. For example, many laypersons do not know that if you elect an informal hearing before the Board of Nursing, you have waived your right to prove you are innocent by contesting the facts alleged against you.

What few know or think of in the heat of the moment is that you can ask at the informal hearing before the Board of Nursing to contest the facts, to prove you are not guilty of the charges, and to have the hearing converted to a formal hearing. A formal hearing will be in front of a neutral Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and you have a great many more procedural rights than you have at an informal hearing. However, we still recommend that you have an experienced health lawyer represent you at a formal hearing.

Available for Deposition Coverage.

In a number of cases, we have been requested to provide local deposition coverage in an area near to one of our offices, when an out-of-town lead counsel is unable to make the trip. If the issues involve health care, we are pleased to be able to assist whenever we can.

Often Professional Liability Insurance Will Pay Legal Fees for Deposition Coverage.

If you are a registered nurse, advanced registered nurse practitioner, certified registered nurse anesthetist, licensed practical nurse, nurse midwife or nurse practitioner who has a professional liability insurance policy, especially one with the larger national companies, these often provide legal coverage for depositions. This is primarily because the outcome of the deposition may include having you named as a defendant in a professional liability or negligence lawsuit or having disciplinary charges filed against you.

One of the first things you should do if you receive a subpoena or a notice of a deposition is to contact your professional liability insurance carrier and see if it will pay for an attorney to represent you. For example, Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO), CPH & Associates, Nurses Service Organization (NSO) and many other malpractice insurance companies provide excellent deposition coverage.

The second thing you should do is to call an experienced attorney and schedule a consultation. Even if you cannot afford to retain the services of the attorney for the actual deposition, a consultation may assist you in properly preparing.

Consult With An Experienced Health Law Attorney.

We routinely provide deposition coverage to registered nurses (RNs), advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), nurse midwives and nurse practitioners and other health professionals being deposed in criminal cases, negligence cases, civil cases or disciplinary cases.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing registered nurses (RNs), advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), nurse midwives and nurse practitioners in investigations at Board of Nursing hearings. Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

Have you ever had an informal or formal hearing before the Board of Nursing? What was the experience like? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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

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

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

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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.

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.

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.