Manager of Dental Office Sentenced to Prison for Defrauding Medicaid Out of More Than $813,000

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

On October 1, 2021, a former dental office manager was sentenced to 12 months in prison for her role in a Medicaid fraud scheme. Mahsa Azimirad, was the office manager for Universal Smiles, a D.C.-based dental practice, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Washington, D.C.

She was indicted in January 2019, along with the dentist who ran the practice. The dentist pleaded guilty in May 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and reportedly admitted that she received over $813,000 through false billings.

The Fraudulent Billing Scheme.

Both the office manager and the dentist were alleged to have participated in a scheme to defraud the D.C. Medicaid Program through their operation of the dental practice. The dentist was a Medicaid provider. As part of the scheme, it is alleged that both of them proceeded to bill Medicaid for thousands of provisional crowns, a significant number of which were allegedly not actually provided to the patients. From August 2012 through February 2014, D.C. Medicaid reportedly paid Universal Smiles approximately $5.4 million in Medicaid reimbursement. Of that amount, it is alleged that the office manager received approximately $813,184.

As part of the sentence, she has been ordered to pay back the full amount she received and will be on three years of supervised release following the completion of her prison term.

Click here to read the press release by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and learn more.

To read about a similar case that also deals with a healthcare professional, click here to read my prior blog.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicaid Audits and Investigations of Dentists and Healthcare Professionals.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to dentists, dental hygienists, physicians, medical groups, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, physical therapists, behavior analysts, pharmacists, psychologists, mental health counselors, health care facilities, and other health providers in Medicaid and Medicare investigations, audits, fraud charges, and recovery actions.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Martin, Colleen. “Rockville Woman Defrauded Medicaid At Dental Office: US Attorney.” Patch. (October 4, 2021). Web.

Bethesda Beat Staff Reporter. “Rockville woman to serve prison term over D.C. Medicaid fraud.” Bethesda Magazine. (October 4, 2021). Web.

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. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620. Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

By |2021-11-03T00:47:39-04:00December 1st, 2021|Categories: Health Facilities Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Humana Health Insurer To Pay $11.2 Million to End Nurses’ Overtime Suit

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

On September 27, 2021, Humana agreed to pay $11.2 million to end claims that the health insurance company denied a group of nurses overtime pay by misclassifying them as exempt employees. A Wisconsin federal judge approved the deal with Humana, and a group of more than 200 nurses reached, securing a $36,000 average payment for each nurse involved in the suit.

A Violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

This dispute stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2017 alleging that Humana misclassified its clinical nurse advisers as exempt employees and denied them overtime compensation, violating the Fair Labor Standards Act.  Many professionals and supervisors or managerial employees are considered to be exempt from overtime laws.

In the suit, the company faced allegations from nurses who claimed they were never paid for overtime even though they were required to work more than 40 hours per week to meet Humana’s production goals and expectations.

The Settlement.

The settlement agreement will allocate almost $3 million to cover attorney fees and costs. Additionally, the 221 nurses that are part of the settling class will get nearly $8 million based on the number of full-time weeks the nurses worked. According to the motion, the average payment per nurse for unpaid overtime and liquidated damages will be over $36,000.

The case is O’Leary v. Humana Insurance Co., et al., case number 17-cv-1774, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Click here to view the court’s brief in full.

To read about another case dealing with alleged pay discrimination in the healthcare field, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses and Other Healthcare Professionals.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely provide legal representation to nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, dentists, dental assistants, physicians, physician assistants, mental health counselors, and other health providers. We also provide legal representation for employers in EEOC complaints, workplace discrimination complaints, and suits involving harassment or discrimination complaints. We also provide legal representation in Department of Health, Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing investigations and complaints, DORA investigations and complaints. We provide litigation services in state and federal courts and state and federal administrative hearings. We provide legal representation across the U.S., not just in Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Spezzemonte, Irene. “Humana To Pay $11.2M To End Nurses’ Misclassification Suit.” Law360. (September 27, 2021). Web.

Webster, Katherine. “Court OKs $11.2M Overtime Settlement Between Humana, Nurses.” Top Class Actions. (September 30, 2021). Web.

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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

 

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law

 

 

 

 

 

Texas Hospital’s COVID Vaccination Mandate Upheld by Federal Court

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

As some states lift COVID-19 restrictions, the business community is still grappling with the dynamic between the COVID-19 vaccine and workplace operations. To address this, some U.S. employers have elected to adopt mandatory vaccination policies. These policies, in essence, require that, subject to a few exceptions, all employees must receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment.

Not surprisingly, we see various legal challenges to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies across the country. On June 12, 2021, a federal court in Texas became the first to rule on the permissibility of such policies enforced by private employers. In a landmark ruling, the court stated that mandatory workplace vaccination policies are lawful under Texas and federal law and may be enforced as a condition of continued employment.


The Court’s Ruling on Mandatory Vaccination Policies.

The lawsuit, Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital, was initially filed on behalf of 117 employees after their employer, Houston Methodist Hospital, instituted a policy requiring employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment. Employees who were not vaccinated by the deadline were to be placed on a two-week unpaid suspension to allow them to comply with the policy. Under the policy, those who ultimately did not comply would be terminated.

In the law suit challenging the employer’s policy, the Plaintiffs asserted: (1) the employees whose employment was terminated as a result of this policy were wrongfully terminated in violation of Texas law, and (2) the vaccine mandate violated public policy of the state of Texas.

Texas Wrongful Termination Claim.

Under Texas law, the court found that firing an employee who is unwilling to comply with an employer’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy does not constitute wrongful termination. Texas law only protects employees who are fired for refusing to commit an illegal act at the request of their employer. The court reasoned that receiving the vaccine is not an illegal act given the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings upholding involuntary quarantines and mandatory vaccines.

Violation of Public Policy.

The court dismissed the plaintiffs’ public policy arguments because, according to the court, Texas law does not recognize a public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine. Additionally, the court noted that a mandatory vaccine requirement is consistent with public policy. The Supreme Court has previously held that state-imposed quarantine and vaccination requirements do not violate due process of law.

The court held that the plaintiffs were not being coerced to get the vaccine but were being given a basic choice by its employer: get the vaccine so the hospital could safely continue its business of saving lives or seek employment elsewhere.

Lastly, the court also cited recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance in its decision. The guidance states that employers can require employees to be vaccinated, subject to the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with legitimate medical or religious reasons for not being vaccinated. Click here to view.

To view the court’s order in full, click here.

Important Takeaway From This Court Decision.

While there are sure to be future legal challenges to mandatory workplace vaccination policies, this decision provides strong support for their use and permissibility. However, even with this ruling, employers with policies need to be mindful of their obligations and potentially provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs that prevent them from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Of course, we will see numerous legal challenges of all kinds to these decisions.

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

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations. We do NOT represent plaintiffs in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Downie, Alex. “Federal Court Upholds Employer’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate.” The National Law Review. (June 15, 2021). Web.

Brown, Amanda, Goldstein, Mark. “In first-of-its-kind decision, federal court rules that mandatory workplace COVID-19 vaccine policies are lawful.” Employment Law Watch. (June 16, 2021). Web.

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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999. Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

18 Former NBA Players Indicted For Alleged $4 Million Health Care Fraud Scheme

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

On October 7, 2021, 18 former NBA players were charged in New York federal court for an alleged health insurance fraud scheme to rip off the league’s benefit plan, according to an indictment filed in the Southern District of New York. The defendants allegedly engaged in a scheme from at least 2017 through 2020 which involved the submission of fraudulent claims for reimbursement of medical and dental services that were not provided, prosecutors said. The claims totaled nearly $4 million.

The NBA Players Health and Welfare Benefit Plan provide additional medical coverage on top of existing medical coverage for active and former NBA players and their families. It is primarily funded by contributions from NBA teams.

Their Playbook Included False Claims and Deception.

Allegedly, the defendants provided ‘fake invoices’ for medical and dental services that were never delivered. Each person attempted to claim somewhere between $65,000 and $420,000 in alleged fraudulent claims. When all was said and done, the total ended up being about $3.9 million, from which the defendants got about $2.5 million in illicit proceeds, the indictment alleges.

Flagrant Foul For Violation of Health Care Fraud Laws.

The scheme was discovered partly because of sloppy work by the defendants themselves. Several of the fake invoices and medical forms raised red flags because “they are not on letterhead, they contain unusual formatting, they have grammatical errors,” authorities said. These types of errors are the ones typically seen in the fraudulent e-mails received from Nigerian princes trying to recover their frozen bank accounts and scam e-mails sent to us attorneys trying to phish us into phony attorney’s fees scams.

Additionally, travel records, e-mails, GPS data, and other records showed that the players in question were often nowhere near the location of the health care providers when they claimed to have been treated or used their services, according to the indictment. (I wonder how many Facebook postings also showed this.)

All 19 defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison. To read the indictment in full, click here.

Read the DOJ’s press release on the case here.


Fraud is Fraud; Dishonesty is Dishonesty.

The problem here is, of course, a lack of integrity. Once you cheat or steal, even if it is just for a small amount of money, you are a thief. These guys sacrificed successful careers, stardom, prestige, and freedom, for a little bit of money.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Health Care Fraud, False Claims Act Violations, and Anti-Kickback Statute Violations.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in cases of accusations of medical billing fraud, health insurance audits, alleged overbilling, Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits, False Claims Act cases, and whistleblower/qui tam cases throughout Florida and across the United States. Our attorneys also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals, and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions, and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Dienst, Jonathan. “18 former NBA players arrested by federal authorities in alleged health care scam.” NBC News. (October 7, 2021). Web.

Zaggar, Zachary. “18 Ex-NBA Players Indicted For Alleged $4M Health Plan Fraud.” (October 7, 2021). Web.

D’Angelo, Bob. “18 former NBA players charged in $4M insurance fraud scheme.” Kiro7 News. (October 7, 2021). Web.

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 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

8 Major Chinese Med Schools Taken Off World Directory Relied on by ECFMG and USMLE

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

In April 2014, the new World Directory of Medical Schools (“World Directory”) was published. It took over as the definitive list of medical schools in the world (yes, the whole world). There are 180 Chinese medical schools listed on the World Directory of Medical Schools. Medical graduates from these schools are routinely eligible to take the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step exams, required for licensing in the United States, after applying and obtaining permission through the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG).

However, in 2019, eight (8) previously recognized Chinese medical schools were dropped from the World Directory or “delisted.” According to the Korean Medical Association (KMA)’s Research Institute for Medical Policy, the World Federation for Medical Education (WFME) (the organization that maintains and publishes the directory) deleted the eight Chinese medical schools from the World Directory. The eight (8) Chinese medical schools were delisted from the World Directory of Medical Schools (WDMS) a year after Oriental medical schools in Korea also failed to be listed on the directory any longer.

The eight “delisted” medical schools are Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, Guiyang College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Heilongjiang University of Chinese Medicine, Liaoning University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanxi College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Yunnan University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

According to the Korean Medical Association’s reports and other publications, the WFME’s decisions clearly show that the world’s medical community does not recognize both Korea’s Oriental medicine and traditional Chinese [Oriental] medicine as modern, scientifically-based medicine.

What Does This Mean?

This means that if you graduated from one of the delisted eight (8) Chinese medical schools, you will no longer be allowed to apply for and receive services from the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). In addition, it means you will not be able to apply for and take the Step exams administered by the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Secretariat, and you will not be able to become licensed in the United States.

Hey, Don’t Shoot Me! I’m Just the Messenger!

Inquiries and other correspondence regarding the World Directory may be sent to info@wdoms.org or to:

World Federation for Medical Education
13A Chemin du Levant
01210 Ferney-Voltaire
France
www.wfme.org

What Might Possibly Be Done?

Some ideas that might (or might not) work include:

1. Graduates of the delisted schools might apply for recognized medical schools and seek to graduate from one of these. Whether or not you will be able to get any credit for your prior medical school is a different question.

2. Bring pressure on your delisted medical school to add courses and curricula to meet the same requirements as a “Western” medical school or “scientific medical school.”

3. Sorry, that’s about all I could think of. Petitioning for an exception or suing the ECFMG or USMLE is a “non-starter” by my way of thinking.

To read about a similar case involving a Caribbean medical school, click here.

Contact a Health Care Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Medical Students, Interns, Residents and Applicants, Fellows and Those Involved in Graduate Medical Education, and those being challenged by the National Board fo Medical Examiners (NBME), the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Secretariat, and the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG)

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys represent interns, residents, fellows, and medical school students in disputes with their medical schools, supervisors, residency programs, and in dismissal hearings. We have experience representing such individuals and those in graduate medical education programs in various disputes regarding their academic and clinical performance, allegations of substance abuse, failure to complete integral parts training, alleged false or incomplete statements on applications, allegations of impairment (because of abuse or addiction to drugs or alcohol or because of mental or physical issues), because of discrimination due to race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, and any other matters. We routinely help those who have disputes with the National Board fo Medical Examiners (NBME), the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Secretariat, and the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), including on hearings and appeals concerning “Irregular Behavior,” “unprofessionalism,” and “Irregular Conduct.”

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Yuqiao, Ji. “TCM [tradional Chinese Medicine] grads struggle after removal from world medical list.” Global Times. (Nov. 18, 2019) web.

Gwang-seok, I. “8 Chinese medical schools delisted from world directory of medical schools.” Korea Biomedical Review. (November 7, 2019). web.

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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888)-331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

9th Circuit Court Rules Former Nurse Can Proceed With Med Mal Suit Against VA Hospital

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

On September 29, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a former federal employee can sue the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The suit alleges medical negligence that occurred during psychiatric treatment for a non-workplace-related injury.

As a result, the three-judge panel of the appeals court said that U.S. Navy veteran and VA nurse S.H.s’ lawsuit against a Seattle VA hospital can proceed. (Please note: we are not providing the nurse’s name out of respect for her privacy.)

In 2019, the district court dismissed S.H.’s federal tort lawsuit because the alleged malpractice occurred when doctors were treating an injury she said she sustained at her workplace. The district court reasoned that all existing or exacerbated injuries stemming from a federal workplace injury must be dealt with through the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA), even malpractice claims.

Click here to view the district court’s order for the motion to dismiss in full.


Background Details.

The plaintiff in the suit is a veteran of the U.S. Navy who suffered a mental breakdown at work in October 2011. She sought follow-up psychiatric care at a VA hospital, where she allegedly received negligent treatment. At the time the treatment was sought, she was an employee of the federal government. She claimed years of workplace bullying and harassment by her supervisor caused her mental breakdown. She sued in 2016.

The FTCA authorizes plaintiffs to sue the U.S. for “personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any employee of the Government while acting within the scope of his office or employment, under circumstances where the United States, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant in accordance with the law of the place where the act or omission occurred.” 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Any individual employee of the government acting within the course and scope of her job duties is immune from liability; the United States is substituted for that person in the suit.


The Big Question: Does the FTCA Authorize Suit by a Plaintiff in This Set of Circumstances?

Two factors complicate the answer in this case. First, when the plaintiff sought treatment, she was an employee of the federal government, working as a registered nurse at the VA hospital. Second, she claimed that her mental breakdown, the event that prompted her to seek medical care, was caused by workplace bullying and harassment at the hands of her supervisor. Hence, this would qualify as a work-related injury.

These facts bring into play another federal statute: the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act. FECA establishes a workers’ compensation blueprint that covers most federal employees. It is similar to state workers’ compensation laws.

When an employee sustains an injury covered by FECA, the remedy is to seek compensation under the act; they may not sue for damages under any other provision of law, including the FTCA. Therefore, had the plaintiff sued the U.S. under the FTCA to recover damages for workplace bullying and harassment, the district court would have been required to dismiss the action as barred by FECA.

In this case, however, the plaintiff is not suing for the injuries caused by the workplace bullying and harassment. Instead, she is seeking to recover damages for the alleged medical malpractice by the individual doctors treating her.

Based on these facts, the appellate court reversed the district court’s judgment against the plaintiff in her Federal Tort Claims Act action. It held that the district court erred in dismissing the action on the grounds that it was barred by the FECA.

To view the ninth circuit court’s opinion in full, click here.


Consult a Health Law Attorney Who Is Familiar with Army, Navy, and Air Force Health Care Professionals and Their Problems.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm have represented federal physicians, nurses, dentists, and other health professionals in the Army, Navy, and Air Force, active duty and retired, as well as physicians, nurses, and other health professionals working for the Veterans Administration (VA) in the U.S. and around the world. They represent physicians and other health professionals with the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Public Health Service (PHS). Representation has included disciplinary action, investigations, peer review investigations, clinical privileges actions, fair hearings, National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) actions, and appeals.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Capriel, Jonathan. “9th Circ. Revives Psychiatric Med Mal Suit Against VA Hospital.” Law360. (September 29, 2021). Web.

Pazanowski, Mary Ann. “Former Federal Nurse Gets New Shot at Injury Suit Against US.” Bloomberg Law. (September 29, 2021). Web.


About the Author:
 Carole C. Schriefer is an attorney and former registered nurse. She practices with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its regional office is in the Northern Colorado, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 155 East Boardwalk Drive, Fort Collins, Colorado 80525. Phone: (970) 416-7456 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida area.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

By |2021-10-27T10:20:22-04:00November 12th, 2021|Categories: Health Facilities Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

Florida Gov Signs Sweeping COVID-19 Liability Protections Into Law

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

On March 29, 2021, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that protects businesses, governments, and healthcare providers in Florida from COVID-19 lawsuits if they make a reasonable effort to follow guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus (whatever that means). Specifically, the measure gives civil immunity to corporations, hospitals, nursing homes, government entities, schools, and churches as long as the alleged negligence doesn’t involve gross negligence or intentional misconduct. The House Passed S.B. 72 on March 26, in an 83-31 vote, and DeSantis signed it the same day he received it from the Legislature.

Why doesn’t this conflict with the Florida Governor’s ban on any mandatory masking, vaccination, or vaccination “passport” requirements? This is very unclear. Perhaps the courts will need to straighten it out.


Details of Senate Bill 72.

The new law establishes significant legal hurdles for individuals who want to sue businesses and health care professionals over coronavirus-related injuries. Plaintiffs who file suit will need to show that the defendant deliberately ignored public health safety guidelines. They will also need a signed affidavit from a doctor stating with reasonable certainty that injury or death caused by COVID-19 was a direct result of the defendant’s actions. Does this sound arbitrary and capricious to anyone other than me?

Now how can a doctor or anyone else make a statement like the one required by the law? How does a doctor know where the patient has been or with whom the patient has been in contact the last fifteen days? How is a physician going to conduct contact tracing and figure out where the patient’s COVID-19 came from? This is very unclear. Perhaps the courts will need to straighten it out.

The law states that it will apply retroactively to the beginning of the pandemic. One must ask if this is an ex post facto law prohibited by the U.S. Constitution (Art. I, § 10, cl. 1.) and the Florida Constitution (Art. 1, § 10)? Additionally, the new law establishes a one-year limitation period to sue from the date of death, hospitalization, or COVID-19 diagnosis that forms the basis of the claim. Boy, this should really throw a big stumbling block in front of any potential plaintiff trying to get into court. (Note: Yes, I know that the federal prohibition on ex post facto laws was held to apply to criminal laws.)

“Over the course of the past year, our state’s businesses, health care providers, and other organizations have been forced to operate in fear of frivolous lawsuits with no merit threatening their livelihoods. As we move forward in our state’s economic recovery, this piece of legislation will provide Floridians with greater peace of mind as they go to work, go to school, and go about their daily lives,” DeSantis said applauding the quick passage of the legislation.

View S.B. 72 here.

To read about a recent case in Florida involving a COVID-19 death lawsuit, click here to read my blog.

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

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations. We do NOT represent plaintiffs in COVID-19 injury suits, however.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Hale, Nathan. “Fla. Gov. Signs Sweeping COVID-19 Liability Protection Law.” Law360. (March 29, 2021). Web.

Kang, Y. Peter. “Fla. COVID-19 Biz Liability Shield Bill Sent To Gov.’s Desk.” Law360. (March 26, 2021). Web.

NBC 6 Miami. “Florida Governor Signs COVID-19 Liability Protection Bill.” AP News. (March 29, 2021). Web.

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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999. Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Follow These Simple Rules To Keep Your License & Avoid Complaints If You Are a Counselor or Psychotherapists

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

I represent many mental health counselors, social workers, psychologists, and professional counselors, defending them on complaints being investigated against their professional licenses. Many complaints and investigations arise because the therapist has strayed over the line and crossed the therapist-client boundary. In reviewing these cases, I have drawn up a list of a few simple “bright line” rules that can help save you many hours of stress and mental anguish as well as thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees and costs defending yourself

These “rules” may seem to be common sense, but there they are, anyway:

1. DO NOT ever meet the client at an outside social activity or attend a social event with the client. This includes “just dinner” or “just-drinks.”

2. DO NOT text the client. Texting is not secure and leads to casual and unprofessional thinking and conversation with the client. Many health care institutions prohibit their physicians and employees from texting with clients because of the HIPAA Security and Privacy Rules. You can use that as an excuse if you need one.

3. DO take a screenshot and print out the text when you violate the above rule. Place it in the client’s health record because you will probably be seeing it again, attached to a complaint.

4. DO send an e-mail or, better yet, a professional letter to the client, instead of texting the client. Print out a copy and place it in the client’s health record, because you will probably see it again.

5. DO NOT EVER make any suggestive or sexual remarks to the client in any communications, oral or written or text, or e-mail. In fact, DON’T even think about it. This includes off-color jokes and comments.

6. DO immediately terminate the relationship with the client, transferring care to a different therapist, if the client suggests anything of a sexual nature involving you.

7. DO NOT talk about other clients with the client.

8. DO NOT talk about your own personal life with the client. Especially DO NOT let the client have your personal home address or personal e-mail address.

9. DO NOT ever have sex with a client or former client. DO NOT even think of it. If you start to think of it, see Rule 6, above. Consider clients and former clients “off-limits” no matter how much you are tempted. If you are religious, just consider this as an attempt by Satan to seduce you. If it works, you are going to be in Hell, even before you die.

10. DO know what professional boundaries are and DO NOT cross them. This includes allowing a personal relationship to grow between you and the client, and includes selling anything to the client (e.g., Girl Scout cookies, tickets to a charitable event, Amway products, candy bars for your kids’ school band, etc.), agreeing to meet the client at any outside event, accepting gifts from the client, hiring the client to work for you, accepting “voluntary” services from the client (including volunteering to work in your office). If you need a friend that bad, terminate the therapist-client relationship and see Rule 6, above.

11. DO know that if you have even a suspicion that your therapist-client relationship is getting out of bounds, then it already is out of bounds. See Rule 6, above.

12. DO call a professional therapist colleague who is more senior to you and consult her or him about the “situation” if you think there may be a “situation.”

These may sound like “no-brainers” to you, but you would be surprised at how many complaints against licensed counselors and psychologists there are as a result of violating one or more of these “rules.”

(Note: These “rules” are just guidelines meant to help you keep out of trouble; these are not meant to be enforced against anyone, nor do they create or represent any “standard of care.”)

For additional information on how our firm can assist you in matters like this, click here to read one of our prior blogs.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced Investigations of Mental Health Counselors, Psychologists, Social Workers, and Family Therapists.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to mental health counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and family therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) investigations, board hearings, FBI investigations, and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers. To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620 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 Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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Florida Judge Sides With Family of Florida Publix Employee Who Died of COVID-19

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

On February 5, 2021, a judge in Florida refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family of a Publix Super Markets deli worker who died after allegedly catching COVID-19 from a coworker. Judge Carlos Lopez announced that he would not dismiss the lawsuit filed by Gerardo Gutierrez’s family, who died on April 28, 2020, from complications caused by coronavirus. The suit was filed in the Florida Circuit Court for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Miami-Dade County, Florida, in November 2020.

Publix Accused of Failing Its Workers & the Miami Beach Community.

The suit alleged that on March 27 and 28, 2020, 70-year-old deli worker Gerardo “Gerry” Gutierrez worked at a Publix supermarket alongside a coworker who showed signs of COVID-19. Unfortunately, at that time, according to the complaint, Publix had made a decision to prohibit its employees from wearing masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

On April 2, Gutierrez was told by his supervisors to isolate at home; but by April 7, he tested positive for Covid-19, the complaint says. He died on April 28, 2020.

The family says in its complaint that Publix, a Florida-based grocery store chain, breached its duty to keep its employees safe. It knowingly failed to take proper precautions and prohibited its workers from wearing masks for fear it would “incite panic” among customers, claims the suit. The lawsuit echoes findings from an earlier Tampa Bay Times report that took the position that Publix lagged behind competitors in adopting employee and customer safety protections (such as employee PPE) during the early days of the pandemic.
Click here to learn more.

Additionally, the suit also references several Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) complaints, where employees repeatedly reported the grocer prohibited mask and glove use.

To view the family’s complaint, click here.

Publix Defends Itself.

In response to the lawsuit, Publix filed a motion to dismiss, calling the suit an attempt to circumvent the worker’s compensation process. Publix also argued that the claims in the case needed to be filed in the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. The worker’s compensation system in Florida requires that employees of a corporation must file workers compensation claims for injuries sustained on the job. Civil litigation is prohibited against the employer, with a number of exceptions. The judge in the civil case disagreed with Publix, ruling in favor of the estate of the worker.

According to the complaint, it wasn’t until March 2020, after the realization set in that the spread of COVID-19 presented a major national crisis for Publix to post a statement on its website. In the statement, Publix CEO Todd Jones said the company had remained in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and would “continue to focus on keeping [its] associates [employees] healthy—and [its] stores open and stocked—to serve and support all our communities.”

Click here to read the statement in full.

Despite the arguments, the family’s attorney Michael Levine said, “Publix has never taken any responsibility for its unthinkable decision to prohibit its employees from wearing masks as COVID-19 swept through Florida. Our case will make sure Publix is held accountable for its reckless decision. We look forward to uncovering the documents behind the mask prohibition and deposing its senior personnel.”

One problem that we see with this case is that many Publix employees work part-time. We had one working for our law firm, for example. By not allowing employees to wear proper PPE, and not requiring them to abide by other protective measures, the employer caused a far wider exposure of others, even many non-customers, and their families, to the COVID virus.

The case is Gutierrez v. Publix Super Markets Inc., case number 2020-025168-CA-01, and you can read the judge’s order in full here.

Read one of my prior blogs about OSHA previously handing out citations for COVID-19 PPE violations.

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

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Bolado, Carolina. “Fla. Judge Won’t Ax Suit Over Publix Worker’s COVID-19 Death.” Law360. (February 5, 2021). Web.

Toropin, Konstantin. “Family files suit over Publix employee’s death. It says company failed to protect him from Covid-19.” CNN. (November 23, 2020). Web.

DiNatale, Sara. “A Publix employee died from COVID-19. Now his family is suing over his death.” Tampa Bay Times. (November 23, 2020). Web.

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 Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Florida Passes Law Aimed at Healthcare Professional Background Screening

Attorney Michael L. SmithBy Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

For several years, many healthcare professionals have been required to pass a Level II background check in order to work in most Florida healthcare facilities licensed by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA). Many healthcare professionals are also required to pass a Level II background check in order to be licensed by the Florida Department of Health (DOH). In March 2020, the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 713, which will add the offenses of battery on a vulnerable adult and battery on a patient or resident of certain healthcare facilities (primarily nursing facilities) as a disqualifying offense. The law took effect on July 1, 2020. Previously, only felony battery and battery on a minor were disqualifying offenses for purposes of the Level II background screening.

More Details on the New Legislation.

A health professional who previously passed the Level II background check may nevertheless be deemed “not eligible” for employment in a licensed health facility on the next Level II background check. This would occur if the practitioner has been found guilty of, regardless of adjudication, or entered a plea of nolo contendere or guilty to battery of a vulnerable adult, or battery on a patient or resident of a healthcare facility. (This is the wording of the statute, not mine.)

A practitioner who is determined to be “not eligible” on a Level II background check due to a disqualifying offense must apply for an exemption from that disqualifying offense, in order to be permitted to work. The practitioner seeking an exemption has the burden of proving that the exemption should be granted. The provider must prove this with clear and convincing evidence, a standard that is higher and stricter than that in a civil trial.

Any health professional seeking an exemption from a disqualifying offense should seek the assistance of an experienced health law attorney familiar with the application process, and the types of evidence that can prove that the health professional should be granted an exemption.

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

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, home health agencies, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other healthcare provider. It also includes medical students, resident physicians, and fellows, as well as medical school professors and clinical staff. We represent health facilities, individuals, groups, and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers, and acquisitions. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation and both formal and informal administrative hearings. We also represent physicians accused of wrongdoing, patient complaints, and in Department of Health investigations.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call our office at (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com

About the Author: Michael L. Smith, R.R.T., J.D., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He 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. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2021 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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