Judge Won’t Toss Lawsuit Filed By 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.

Judge Sides With AdventHealth, Allows Fraud Claims Over $57.5 Million PPE Deal to Move Forward

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

On February 23, 2021, a federal court in Orlando, Florida, ruled that Adventist Health System Sunbelt (now known as AdventHealth, and which owns Florida Hospital, among others) could pursue claims it has over a bad $57.5 million deal to buy personal protective equipment (PPE). The defendants whom the hospital system is suing include Tomax Capital Management, Inc. (“Tomax”), a California corporation; a California attorney and his law firm; and others.

U.S. District Judge Paul G. Byron said the hospital system provided sufficient evidence that Tomax failed to deliver the promised PPE and then conspired to keep the $2 million which was not returned.

The PPE Contract.

According to the complaint in the case, the contract was for AdventHealth to purchase 10 million 3M N95 ventilator masks, according to the May 2020 complaint. Under the terms of the contract, the hospital was to pay a total of $57.5 million for 10 million 3M N95 masks to protect its workers during the Coronavirus pandemic. AdventHealth paid the $57.5 million into a California lawyer’s trust account. The 10 million masks were to be delivered to AdventHealth’s hospital in Orlando, Florida, by April 18, 2020. However, the masks never arrived.

Now, I just have to jump in and point out something. I don’t claim to have ironclad proof of it, but I have seen and read enough about 3M N95 masks on television and in the press while trying to purchase my own. I may be totally off on this figure, but I seem to remember around the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic that 3M was only manufacturing approximately 1 million masks a month. So where someone would be able to come up with 10 million of these specific masks is mind-boggling to me. Let’s just say that this is my own opinion.

When the hospital system requested a refund of the $57.5 million it had paid, it claims it was only refunded $55.5 million, with $2 million missing in action. According to the complaint, AdventHealth never saw the remaining $2 million despite assurance from the attorneys involved in the deal that AdventHealth would get it back. Hence, the present lawsuit.

I mean, if you can’t trust an attorney nowadays, who can ya’ trust?

A Civil Conspiracy?

In its suit, AdventHealth makes various claims of breach of contract, conversion, and civil conspiracy and requests actual damages, punitive damages, and prejudgment interest. The conspiracy would involve the allegation that the attorney and law firm conspired with Tomax and others to deprive AdventHealth of the $2 million. Because AdventHealth alleged that it suffered damages in Florida, it was able to bring its case to the federal court here in Orlando.

Read the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida for more details.

Granted, $2 million isn’t a lot of money to some people, but it was obviously enough money to get these Defendants sued in federal court.

Judge Sides With the Hospital System’s Position on Motion to Dismiss Complaint.

The federal court judge denied a motion to dismiss the complaint filed by Tomax. In his order, the judge stated: “Plaintiff sufficiently pleads facts supporting the existence of a civil conspiracy that caused injury in Florida.” In addition to allowing the claims of the hospital system to move forward, the judge also ruled that the court has the authority to exercise personal jurisdiction over the attorney and law firm that was involved, under the state’s long-arm statute. To obtain more details, read the judge’s order denying the motion to dismiss.  Click here to visit our Areas of Practice page and learn more on how The Health Law Firm can assist you in legal cases like this.

PPE a “Hot Issue.”

In another recent pandemic-related case, OSHA began issuing fines to health care systems over PPE violations such as lack of proper equipment for their employees. We have also read a number of reports about companies and individuals being fined and injunctions being obtained by the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration over phony PPE being sold to Americans over the Internet.

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. The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in complex litigation in state and federal courts.

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. “AdventHealth’s Fraud Claim Over $57M PPE Deal Advanced.” Law360. (February 23, 2021). Web.

Bolado, Carolina. “AdventHealth Sues Attorney Over Failed $57.5M Masks Deal.” Law360. (May 29, 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.

DOJ Charges 345 People Allegedly Involved in More Than $6 Billion in Healthcare Fraud

George F. Indest III with 30+ years experience, is board certified by the Florida Bar in Health Law.By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

In September 2020, federal prosecutors charged 345 doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals allegedly involved in more than $6 billion in healthcare fraud. It is considered the largest Health Care Fraud and Opioid Enforcement Action in the Department of Justice’s history (DOJ). The schemes were related to telemedicine, illegal opioid distribution, and durable medical equipment, the DOJ said.

A National Fraud Operation.

According to the DOJ, the 345 defendants were responsible for submitting false and fraudulent claims that cost more than $6 billion to federal health care programs and private insurers. It included $4.5 billion related to telemedicine fraud, $1.5 billion connected to sober homes, and over $806 million linked to illegal opioid distribution and other forms of Medicare fraud.

Telemedicine fraud charges made up the bulk of the nationwide bust. A total of 86 defendants were telehealth executives who allegedly paid medical professionals to order unnecessary amounts of durable medical equipment, genetic tests, and pain medications.

The sober homes cases include charges against more than 12 defendants for allegedly submitting false claims for tests and treatments for patients with drug and alcohol problems. The defendants allegedly paid illegal kickbacks and bribes for the referral of hundreds of patients to substance abuse treatment facilities.

Similarly, included in the charges were health professionals and others involved in distributing more than 30 million doses of opioids and other prescription narcotics. These charges have already resulted in guilty pleas by more than 240 of the defendants.

The historic law enforcement action was put in motion in April 2020 and aimed to crack down on classic health care fraud schemes. The DOJ executes “takedowns” every year to spotlight concerns about fraud in certain areas by grouping similar schemes together. Since its establishment in 2007, it has charged more than 4,200 defendants who defrauded Medicare for more than $19 billion, the agency said.

Click here to read the press release issued by the DOJ.

To read about a similar record-breaking telehealth fraud case in Florida, click here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Handling Medicare Audits, Investigations and other Legal Proceedings.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent healthcare providers in defending audits and investigations by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Florida Department of Health (DOH), the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU), state boards of medicine, state boards of pharmacy, and state boards of nursing. They also represent health professionals and providers in administrative litigation (state and federal) and civil litigation (state and federal). They represent physicians, nurses, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, dentists, pharmacies, assisted living facilities, and other healthcare providers and institutions in recovery actions and termination from Medicare and Medicaid Programs.

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

Sources:

Allen, Jackie. “DOJ charges 345 people involve in more than $6 billion healthcare fraud.” USA Herald. (October 3, 2020). Web.

Stawicki, Keven. “DOJ Charges 345 In Health Fraud Schemes Topping $6B.” Law360. (September 30, 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 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.

 

11th Circuit Court of Appeals Rejects Florida Eye Doctor’s Request for New Medicare Fraud Trial

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

On July 31, 2020, a panel of U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal judges upheld a 17-year prison sentence for a Florida ophthalmologist found guilty of Medicare fraud. The three-judge panel rejected an appeal in which Salomon Melgen claimed prosecutors mishandled his 2017 criminal trial.

It upheld the conviction on all 67 counts, deemed the 17-year-sentence to be even-handed, and denied him a new trial.

Details of the Case and Why the Former Ophthalmologist Requested a New Trial.

To understand how the panel reached their decision, it helps to understand the details of the scheme and the accusations. Back in April 2017, a jury in the Southern District of Florida convicted Melgen of carrying out systemic billing fraud at his South Florida medical offices. He stood accused of routinely administering unnecessary, invasive treatments and profiteering off the macular-degeneration drug Lucentis.

Additionally, he was charged with running millions of dollars’ worth of unnecessary diagnostic tests, often using outdated technology that allowed him to bill at higher rates.

According to the opinion, Melgen presented a list of perceived reasons for reversal, including the sufficiency of the evidence and reasonableness of his sentence. He argued that charts comparing his billing rates to his peers were not covered by Federal Rule of Evidence 1006 and, therefore, amounted to inadmissible hearsay in violation of the Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Constitution. To learn more, click here to view his appeal.

Unfortunately for the doctor, the alleged errors in the trial did not persuade the judges.

Other Alleged Errors and How the 11th Circuit Judges Came to Their Decision.

One issue was whether any of the witnesses’ communications with others had tainted their testimony at the trial. In the opinion, the appellate panel stated that Melgen failed to show that the witness interactions affected testimony. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by continuing the trial after the witness intimidation came to light. Lastly, the sentence length the district court imposed was “more than reasonable,” the panel stated.

U.S. Circuit Judge Britt C. Grant, said on behalf of the panel, “The scope of the scheme was easily enough for the jury to conclude that Melgen had engaged in systematic fraud, rather than committing isolated mistakes. We find the evidence sufficient to uphold the jury’s verdict.” You can read the opinion in full here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Optometrists and Ophthalmologists.

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

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

Sources:

Kapnick, Izzie. “11th Circuit Upholds Doctor’s Massive Fraud Conviction.” Courthouse News. (July 31, 2020). Web.

Jarvis, Sarah. “11th Circ. Won’t Grant Menendez-Linked Doc New Fraud Trial.” Law360. (July 31, 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 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 and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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Certifying Emotional Support Animals and Protecting Your Professional License, Part 1 of 2

Attorney Amanda I. ForbesBy Amanda I. Forbes, J.D., and George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified in Health Law

In today’s stress-filed world if you are a mental health counselor or other professional counselor, it is likely that you will encounter a client seeking to obtain an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)
designation letter from you. Providing such a letter may cause you to face complaints, licensing, and disciplinary actions driven by hostile landlords, homeowners associations, and business establishments that do not want any sort of animals on their premises. Often cases wind up in civil litigation. The client may also try to retaliate against you, should the client be the victim of legal problems because of attempting to keep an ESA and not understanding the legal ramifications.

However, you, as an experienced, licensed mental health professional must know what to do and not to do to protect your license and your career.

This is part 1 of 2 in a blog series regarding Emotional Support Animals. Click here for part two. We also intend to do a follow-up blog series on working animals and how they are legally distinguished from ESAs.

Here are some tips to keep in mind should you decide to provide an ESA recommendation letter:

1. You must develop and document a properly established therapist-client relationship with the client prior to writing a recommendation–do whatever you would normally do for any other client seeking your help who walks in the door.

2. Confirm the actual, true identity of the client to be sure you know with whom you are dealing. Request and obtain at least two different forms of photo ID, one including a driver’s license for the equivalent. Check and verify the name and address on the Internet or with directory assistance. (I have a personal rule of thumb: “If you can’t find a person on the Internet, then he is a fake and does not exist”).

3. Obtain the client’s complete mental health history and medical history, requesting and obtaining other treater’s records just as you would do for any other client/patient.

4. If the client has been referred to you by another provider, especially one in a different medical or health specialty, request a written referral documenting the need for the referral to you.

5. Adequately and thoroughly make and document any decision that an ESA will benefit the client and help in treating any mental health symptoms. Be thorough and document it.

6. Assign a code from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, ed. 5 (DSM-5 ), to the patient, or obtain one from the patient’s regular treating psychiatrist, psychologist, or mental health therapist.

7. The most important element involved is to show that there is an actual medical necessity for the client to have an ESA or that there will be a therapeutic benefit for the client to have the ESA. If you cannot justify and document this, then do not approve the request.

8. Evaluate the ESA, preferably by an in-person meeting or tele-health conference, and determine that it will benefit the client, be sure to document this evaluation and comment on the weight, height, aggressiveness, and character of the ESA. It is most helpful to have a form the ESA’s veterinarian will complete, sign, and return to you for confirmation of this information and, perhaps, an indication that the animal is suitable in character. Keep this in your record.

9. Thoroughly document the above in your chart on the client.

10. Have a thorough knowledge of your state’s laws and professional licensing board’s regulations concerning ESAs. You might review past disciplinary cases in which counselors have received discipline relating to ESAs in your state.

Warning About Organizations that Target Mental Health Counselors, Psychoanalysts, and Professional Counselors Who Approve Emotional Support Animals.

Those mental health counselors, social workers, professional counselors, and therapists who are involved in the certification or approval of emotional support animals and working animals should be advised that there are a number of organizations and individuals out there who seek out and target those who certify or approve such animals. These organizations and individuals see many cases of abuse and improper certifications being used. They see individuals who appear to have no real medical need for such an animal “purchasing” such certifications. They view them as a merely “privileged” individual who merely buys such certification for their pet just so that can take the pet everywhere and garner attention for themselves.

Sometimes these organizations and individuals even pretend to be a patient seeking certification of an emotional support animal or a working animal. They do often contact counselors using fake names and pretending to be fake patients to see how far the therapist will go without even having a real patient. Then they file a complaint with the therapist’s professional board in an attempt to have disciplinary action taken against their license.

Therefore, it is imperative that you follow the tips mentioned in this article.

Guidance from the American Counseling Association:

The American Counseling Association (ACA) published a position paper titled: Emotional Support Animals-Human Animal Interactions in Counseling Interest Network Position Statement.

In that position paper the ACA stated:

As Licensed Professional Counselors, the assessment of DSM-5 diagnoses for human clients is within the scope of practice; however, the added practices of animal behavior, behavior assessment or Human-Animal Interventions are (most often) not. Emotional Support Animal may, in some specific circumstances, provide benefits to humans to minimize identified symptoms often associated with a DSM 5 diagnoses; however, because of the potential risks and unanticipated outcomes, the HAIC strongly suggests that counselors abstain from writing letters for persons seeking counseling or assessments for the sole purpose of obtaining an ESA recommendation letter.

Click here to read the ACA letter in full.

However, if the counselor already has an existing treating relationship with a client and the counselor is considering writing an ESA recommendation letter, then the ASA recommends:

[T]he counselor must have a thorough knowledge of the local, state, and federal laws and policies surrounding ESAs and appropriate knowledge, skills, and attitudes with the subject of therapeutic human-animal interactions before writing such a letter.

Click here to learn more.

The ACA also cautions:

The ACA’s Code of Ethics C.2.e Consultations on Ethical Obligations includes “taking reasonable steps with other counselors, the ACA Ethics and Professional Standards Department, or related professionals when they have questions regarding their ethical obligations or professional practice.” This may include working with animal trainers, behaviorists, or veterinary behaviorists to ensure that the clinician remains within their scope of practice. Since there is no overarching licensing or accrediting body for this matter, nor are there federal or state mandates at this time, the onus is on the clinician to ensure ethical practice.

https://www.unh.edu/sites/default/files/departments/student_accessibility_services_/aca.final_version_esa14556_002.pdf. (Emphasis added).

Don’t forget to read part 2 in this blog series to learn more.

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, social workers, and family therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, FBI investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers. To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company. If allowed, we will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company.

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 (850) 439-1001 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620, and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

GEORGE F. INDEST III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M.About the Authors: Amanda I. Forbes, practices health law with The Health Law Firm in its Altamonte Springs, Florida, office. George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified in Health Law by The Florida Bar and is licensed in Louisiana, Florida, and the District of Columbia. He is President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm. 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.

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Judge in Colorado Says Board of Pharmacy Must Hand Over Patient Identifying Data to DEA

George Indest HeadshotBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On April 22, 2020, a federal judge ordered the Colorado Board of Pharmacy to give the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) prescription drug monitoring program data on two pharmacies that the DEA is investigating. The data includes patient identifying information of more than 14,000 patients. The state must turn over the data by May 15, 2020, according to the order.

Pharmacy Investigations.

Citing concerns about the two pharmacies’ handling of controlled-substance prescriptions, the DEA issued subpoenas under the Controlled Substances Act in 2019. The DEA requested the information as part of an investigation into whether the two unnamed pharmacies broke the law in dispensing opioids and other drugs.

Clash Over Patient Privacy.

The DEA’s requested information is kept under the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program or PDMP. For controlled-substance prescriptions, Colorado pharmacies and pharmacists are required by state law to report information that includes the names of patients, their doctors, and pharmacies.

Colorado state officials refused to release the data citing patient privacy concerns. The DEA’s “overly broad, undifferentiated demand for access would violate the Fourth Amendment right to privacy guaranteed to more than 14,000 patients whose medical data is at issue,” the state said.

According to the order, the Colorado statute allows the prescription-monitoring data to be disclosed but only to specific recipients including in response to law enforcement subpoenas. However, the state argued that the Colorado statute only applies to a “bona fide investigation of a specific individual.”

To read about a similar case involving a DEA investigation into pharmacy prescription practices, click here to read my prior blog.

The Decision.

U.S. District Judge Raymond P. Moore denied Colorado’s objections to the DEA’s subpoenas for the prescription data including patients’ information such as names, birth dates, and addresses. The judge said the DEA has shown that the requested information is relevant and needed for the ongoing investigation of the two pharmacies, and no warrant is needed to obtain it. The order directs the Colorado Board of Pharmacy and Patty Salazar, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) to provide the data to the DEA no later than May 15, 2020.

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

For more information, click here to read the press release issued from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado.

States Must Act to Protect the Integrity of Such Programs.

State prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) were sold to pharmacists and physicians based on a promise that they were solely for the purpose of protecting patients from overdoses and preventing “doctor shopping” by dishonest, drug-seeking patients. Inherent in these programs was the promise that they would not be used for the purpose of prosecuting or charging physicians or pharmacists, in criminal proceedings or administrative proceedings, based on their contents. Most of the state laws that authorized the creation of PDMPs specifically forbid their use in such cases. This was required in order to get physicians and state medical societies to buy off on them.

Yet here we are. We see this over and over. the Federal government and federal agencies obtaining copies of these reports from the state and using them as direct evidence against physicians, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and pharmacies, despite the prohibition of the state statutes.

Moreover, not only does this subvert the purpose behind creating such databases, but then it runs afoul of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and similar provisions of most state constitutions. The doctor or pharmacist is required by law to report the prescriptions to the PDMP, but then the federal agency turns right around and uses it as evidence against the individual who reported it.

The feds take the position: “We do not care why you, the state, authorized it or what its purpose was supposed to be. If we want to take that information and use it for something else, something that was specifically prohibited by the state, then we will do it.”

Until state pharmacy associations and medical associations do something to tighten up the state legislation that created the PDMPs, this situation is not likely to change. The feds will continue to use the state PDMPs to prosecute and to take administrative actions to revoke the DEA registrations of physicians, pharmacists, pharmacies, and other health professionals.

Consult With A Health Law Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Pharmacists and Pharmacies.

We routinely provide legal representation to pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians and other health providers. We defend in state and federal administrative hearings, investigations, and litigation. We represent health professionals in formal and informal administrative hearings. We have a great deal of experience in defending against DEA actions.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing physicians, physician assistants and other health professionals in investigations and at Board of Pharmacy hearings. Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Zegers, Kelly. “Colo. Must Give DEA Pharmacy Data With Patient Info.” Law360. (April 20, 2020). Web.

Ingold, John. “Why the DEA is suing Colorado’s pharmacy board as part of an opioid investigation.” The Colorado Sun. (November 11, 2019). Web.

Pazanowski, Mary Ann. “Colorado Pharmacy Board Must Give DEA Patient-Identifying Info.” Bloomberg Law. (April 22, 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 Avenue, 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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Eight Legal Tips If You Are Having Academic, Disciplinary or Problems with Your Residency Program

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

Here are some tips to set the record straight on various inaccurate information I have heard from physicians in medical residency programs in representing them in appeals of disciplinary actions including suspension and terminations.

1. Nothing you tell your Program Director, advisor, mentors, attendings, senior resident, or co-resident is confidential. Go ahead and pour your heart out about all of your problems and concerns, but none of it is confidential, even if you said it was “in confidence.” What is confidential: what you tell your priest or religious adviser (preacher, rabbi, imam) and what you tell your own personal physician or psychotherapist (unless you have signed a waiver) that you have hired and you are paying. Anyone else, it is not confidential. So if you tell your program director you were raped when you were younger, not confidential. If you tell your senior resident you suffer from panic attacks, not confidential. You tell your attending that you had cancer ten years ago, not confidential. This applies no matter what “magic words” you attach to it.

2. Take and use whatever time period is offered to you to retain counsel and prepare. If you are given ten (10) days to file an appeal or a request for hearing, take the full ten (10) days. Do not file it on the same day. Otherwise, you are using up valuable preparation time that you cannot get back.

3. Make sure that whatever you are required to file is actually received by the due date indicated. If a request for a hearing must be filed within fifteen (15) days, that means that it must be received within the fifteen days. Check after you send it or deliver it to make sure it has been successfully received.

4. It is never too early to hire an attorney. Hire an attorney to represent and advise you at the first sign of trouble. However, you must be sure to hire an attorney who is experienced in representing residents and fellows in disputes with graduate medical education programs. An experienced attorney can help you prepare any written submissions you make, organize your response and any documents you care to submit, and otherwise assist you in identifying what is relevant and what is not relevant.

5. Always read your program’s graduate medical education (GME) manual, residency manual, due process policy or whatever handbook or manual contains your hearing and appeal rights. Be familiar with them and follow them.

6. If you are given remedial actions you must take, documents your completion of each one. Whether the requirement you must perform is in a corrective action plan (CAP), a remediation letter, or a probation letter, document your completion of it in writing and report it to whatever authority gave you the requirement. Send a courtesy copy (“cc”) to your program director.

7. Make sure any correspondence you send to anyone is complete, correct and in the form of a professional business letter. Make sure it meets all of the requirements of a professional business letter. This is especially true for rebuttals, appeals, hearing requests, etc. What, you don’t know what this is? Then go online and Google it. Your letter should look very similar to any letter you received from your program director or institution. Be sure it has all of your return contact information on it as well as a date. Do not start your letter with “Hi,” “Hello,” or “Good day.” Do place a reference (“Re:”) line or subject line on your letter that states what the subject of your letter is.

8. Do not be afraid to appeal, file a discrimination complaint or exercise any of your legal rights. Often I hear from residents, after they are already terminated from their program, that they are afraid to get a lawyer involved. I usually ask: “What are you afraid of? What is the worst that can happen? You have already been terminated.” Remember, also, that if your program retaliates against you for exercising any of your rights, that is illegal. The ACGME would like to hear about that and in almost all cases, you will then have a legal cause of action upon which you can sue the program.

Contact a Health Care Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Medical Resident Physicians, Fellows, Medical Students, Dental Students and Residents, Pharmacy Students and Residents, Mental Health Counselor Interns, and other health professionals. The attorneys of The Health Law Firm, also represent those applicants accused of irregular behavior by the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Secretariat, and the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG), in responses, hearings and appeals, including on charges of “unprofessional conduct” and “improper behavior.”

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys 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.

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.

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

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name 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.

 

 

Military Non-judicial Punishments or Article 15 Proceedings Are Not Criminal Convictions–Military Physicians, Dentists and Nurses Should Know This

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

Our firm represents many military and former military health professionals. We are often asked how a non-judicial punishment or Article 15 proceeding will be treated for license applications, clinical privileges applications, and background screenings.

Article 15 Non-judicial Punishment Is Not the Same as a Court-martial or a Criminal Proceeding.

Under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), which is also codified in 10 U.S.C. § 815, a commanding officer may issue an administrative punishment to enlisted or officer personnel under her command. These are not considered criminal convictions for any purpose, hence their other name, “non-judicial punishment.” These are usually for minor offenses and may be considered similar to civilian non-criminal traffic offenses.

An Article 15 non-judicial proceeding is less judicial in nature than a summary court-martial. In addition, the permissible range of punishments resulting from an Article 15 proceeding is more restrictive. The less serious Article 15 non-judicial proceeding cannot amount to a criminal prosecution or proceeding. What is most important is that there is no right to “due process of law” in a NJP as there would be in a judicial proceeding.

The NJP does not have to be reported as a “conviction” or “charge” and it should not come up on any background checks. If it does, you will need to seek assistance to have it removed from your record or explain it in sufficient detail. Always consult an experienced health lawyer with knowledge of the military if you have any questions about how to respond to questions on an application.

Cases That Have Ruled That NJPs Are Noncriminal Proceedings.

In Middendorf v. Henry, 425 U.S. 25, 31-32, 96 S. Ct. 1281, 47 L. Ed. 2d 556 (1976), even the dissenting opinion (which would have held that a summary court-martial is a criminal proceeding), agreed that the less serious Article 15 non-judicial punishment is not a criminal conviction for the purposes of the Fifth or Sixth Amendment. 425 U.S. at 58 (Marshall, J., dissenting). The dissenters noted that an Article 15 non-judicial punishment can be speedily imposed by a commander and does not carry with it the stigma of a criminal conviction. 425 U.S. at 58-59.

Numerous federal cases have held that an Article 15 non-judicial proceeding is not a criminal prosecution. See e.g., United States v. Marshall, 45 M.J. 268, 271 (C.A.A.F. 1996); Varn v. United States, 13 Cl. Ct. 391, 396 (1987); Dumas v. United States, 223 Ct. Cl. 465, 620 F.2d 247, 253 (1980) (“Article 15 proceedings clearly are not criminal prosecutions within the meaning of the rights plaintiffs claim under [the Fifth and Sixth] Amendments”); Bowes v. United States, 227 Ct. Cl. 166, 645 F.2d 961 (1981); Cole v. States, 228 Ct. Cl. 890 (1981); Cochran v. United States, 1 Cl. Ct. 759, 764 (1983), aff’d, 732 F.2d 168 (1984); Cappella v. United States, 224 Ct. Cl. 162, 624 F.2d 976, 980 (1980).

Fewer Rights at a NJP Means Increased Authority to Commanders and, Therefore, Less Stigma Associated With the Discipline.

The legislative history accompanying 10 U.S.C. § 815 states that Article 15 non-judicial punishment is non-criminal in character. The legislative history explains the purpose of the 1962 amendments to Article 15:

“The purpose of the proposed legislation was to amend article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to give increased authority to designated commanders in the Armed Forces to impose non-judicial punishment. Such increased authority [enables] them to deal with minor disciplinary problems and offenses without resort to trial by court-martial.”

The Legislative History Supports this Interpretation.

“Under existing law, article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice provides a means whereby military commanders deal with minor infractions of discipline without resorting to criminal law processes. Under this article, commanding officers can impose specified limited punishments for minor offenses and infractions of discipline. This punishment is referred to as ‘non-judicial’ punishment. Since the punishment is non-judicial, it is not considered as a conviction of a crime and in this sense has no connection with the military court-martial system. . . . It has been acknowledged over a long period that military commanders should have the authority to impose non-judicial punishment as an essential part of their responsibilities to preserve discipline and maintain an effective armed force.”

The legislative history also emphasizes Congress’s intent to make Article 15 a non-criminal proceeding for the protection of service personnel:

“The Department of Defense has stated that problems adversely affecting morale and discipline have been created in the Armed Forces because of the inadequate powers of commanding officers to deal with minor behavioral infractions without resorting to the processes of the military court-martial system. . . . At the same time, the increased non-judicial authority should permit the services to reduce substantially the number of courts-martial for minor offenses, which result in stigmatizing and impairing the efficiency and morale of the person concerned.”

One court noted: “In light of the foregoing, it is clear that an Article 15 military proceeding for non-judicial punishment does not amount to a “criminal prosecution.” . . . Article 15’s legislative history demonstrates that Congress did not consider non-judicial punishment to be a conviction of a crime. Furthermore, federal courts have construed such proceedings to be non-criminal in nature. Accordingly, state prosecution . . . for the same offense is not barred by our double jeopardy statutory scheme.”
State v. Myers, 100 Haw. 132, 135-36, 58 P.3d 643, 646-47 (2002)

Other Courts Have Held Similarly.

Other Courts have quoted Myers with approval or have come to the same conclusion.

For example, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in United States v. Trogden, 476 F. Supp. 2d 564, 569 (E.D. Va. 2007), stated:

“‘Supreme Court, other federal court, and state court precedent support the finding that NJP is not criminal. The Supreme Court has expressly stated that “Article 15 punishment, conducted personally by an accused’s commanding officer, is an administrative method of dealing with the most minor offenses.’ Middendorf v. Henry, 425 U.S. 25, 31-32, 96 S. Ct. 1281, 47 L. Ed. 2d 556 (1976) (emphasis added); see United States v. Gammons, 51 M.J. 169, 177 (C.A.A.F. 1999) (confirming this Supreme Court precedent in stating that ‘[m]ost punishments that may be imposed in a NJP proceeding affect the noncriminal field of military personnel administration’). Lower courts have further held that NJP is a non-adversarial proceeding that is regarded as noncriminal in nature. Fairchild v. Lehman, 814 F.2d 1555, 1558 (Fed. Cir. 1987); see Wales v. United States, 14 Cl. Ct. 580, 587 (1988); Cochran, 1 Cl. Ct. at 764, 767; Dumas, 620 F.2d at 251; Gammons, 51 M.J. at 174; United States v. Marshall, 45 M.J. 268, 271 (C.A.A.F. 1996); Dobzynski v. Green, 16 M.J. 84, 85-86 (C.A.A.F. 1983); Myers, 100 Haw. at 135, 58 P.3d at 646. Accordingly, in light of Article 15’s text, implementing manual, legislative history, and evaluation in case law, this court finds that Congress did not intend for NJP to be considered as criminal punishment for double jeopardy purposes, and this congressional intent is ‘entitled to considerable deference.’ SEC v. Palmisano, 135 F.3d 860, 864 (2d Cir. 1998).”

“Neither party has argued that the non-judicial punishment proceedings at issue were criminal in nature. See State v. Myers, 100 Haw. 132, 58 P.3d 643, 646-47 (Haw. 2002) (‘Numerous federal cases have held that an Article 15 non-judicial proceeding is not a criminal prosecution.’). Quoted with approval in Sasen v. Mabus, Civil Action No. 16-cv-10416-ADB, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44436, at *33-34 (D. Mass. Mar. 27, 2017).

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appelas in United States v. Reveles, 660 F.3d 1138, 1141-42 (9th Cir. 2011), stated:

“The Armed Forces Court of Appeals has stated that ‘the title of the [NJP] legislation—”Commanding officer’s non-judicial punishment”—underscores the legislative intent to separate NJP from the judicial procedures of the military’s criminal law forum, the court-martial.’ United States v. Gammons, 51 M.J. 169, 177 (C.A.A.F. 1999). Similarly, the United States Court of Claims has held that ‘non-judicial punishment, unlike the general and special court-martial, is not a formal adversary criminal proceeding, but is regarded as non-criminal in nature.’ Wales v. United States, 14 Cl. Ct. 580, 587 (1988) (citing Fairchild v. Lehman, 814 F.2d 1555, 1558 (Fed. Cir. 1987)); see also Cochran v. United States, 1 Cl. Ct. 759, 764 (1983); Dumas v. United States, 620 F.2d 247, 251-52, 223 Ct. Cl. 465 (Ct. Cl. 1980); United States v. Trogden, 476 F. Supp. 2d 564, 568 (E.D. Va. 2007); State v. Myers, 100 Haw. 132, 58 P.3d 643, 646 (Haw. 2002); but see United States v. Volpe, 986 F. Supp. 122 (N.D.N.Y. 1997); Arriaga, 49 M.J. at 12; Ivie, 961 P.2d at 945.”

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 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. 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.

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 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.

Ex-Kaiser Permanente Employee Claims Disability Discrimination In ADA Suit

George Indest Headshot

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

On November 4, 2020, a former employee of Kaiser Permanente Insurance filed a class-action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, claiming discrimination. She says the company required her to take a “competency test” to determine if she could keep her job after the Atlanta business learned of her medical disability (anxiety and depression). The suit claims that the insurance company refused to accommodate her disability and fired her after she failed.

Alleged Disability Discrimination.

The plaintiff worked for Kaiser Permanente Georgia Region between October 2010 and August 2020. According to the lawsuit that was filed, she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in 2018 and in May 2019 but was cleared by her physician to work. According to the suit, Kaiser Permanente singled her out, forced her to disclose her anxiety and depression, and required her to take a “competency test” for a job she already held. It is worth noting that mental conditions such as “anxiety and depression,” are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In March 2019, the plaintiff requested a reasonable accommodation—i.e., a postponement of the testing until she was mentally stable enough to sit for the test. She claims her request was denied outright by Kaiser despite its knowledge of her disability. Per the complaint, the plaintiff was told that she had failed the competency test, despite never having received her scores. In August 2019, she was retested and Kaiser told her that she failed.

On November 8, 2019, the employee was terminated because she “no longer met the job requirements and was not successful at passing the second attempt of the competency test,” the complaint said.

Failure to Accommodate Under the ADA.

The former employee alleged disability discrimination, unlawful medical requests, and failure to accommodate her disabilities under the ADA. She’s seeking unspecified damages for loss of past and future income, mental anguish, and emotional distress, along with her court costs and attorney fees.

Click here to read the complaint in full.

For more information, read our prior blog on a similar case dealing with an insurance company that was sued for mental health discrimination.

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 nurses, resident physicians, mental health counselors, social workers, pharmacists, and health facilities. It also includes medical students, 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:

Konnath, Hailey. “Kaiser Permanente Hit With ADA Suit Over Competency Tests.” Law360. (November 4, 2020). Web.

Shaak, Erin. “Singled Out: Lawsuit Claims Kaiser Permanente Denied ‘Competency Test’ Accommodation for Ex-Employee with Disability.” Newswire. (November 5, 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 the 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

By |2021-02-24T12:31:18-05:00April 6th, 2021|Categories: Nursing Law Blog|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |0 Comments

House Committee Advances Bill to Expand Medical Marijuana Research

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 September 9, 2020, a U.S. House of Representatives committee advanced a bill to expand access to marijuana for research purposes. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce voted unanimously by voice vote in favor of HR 3797, the Medical Marijuana Research Act of 2019. The bill would: “amend the Controlled Substances Act to make marijuana accessible for use by qualified marijuana researchers for medical purposes, and for other purposes.”

HR 3797 – Medical Marijuana Research Act.

The amendment to existing federal law would allow researchers to use “marijuana products available through State-authorized marijuana programs” until there are federally-approved suppliers who can meet the demand of the federal researchers. More specifically, there will be no limit on the number of entities that could be federally approved to cultivate and distribute cannabis for research purposes. Additionally, the Secretary of Health and Human Services would be required to submit a report to Congress that includes a review of cannabis research and a note on whether cannabis should be rescheduled on the drug schedules that are used to decide what drugs are controlled substances.

The amendment also takes care of a problem in the law it amends to prevent government law enforcement officials from interfering with the sale or distribution of research marijuana.


Advancement in Cannabis Cultivation.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, (NORML) said in a statement that the amendments to the law advanced by the bill were “necessary and long overdue.”

“Rather than compelling scientists to access marijuana products of questionable quality manufactured by a limited number of federally licensed producers, federal regulators should allow investigators to access the cannabis and cannabis-infused products that are currently being produced in the legal marketplace by the multitude of state-sanctioned growers and retailers,” Armentano said.

George F. Indest III, President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm also stated: “This is a law that is necessary and long overdue.” He urged everyone to contact their U.S. Representative and Senators and ask them to vote in favor of it.

The next step for the bill is a vote on the House floor; however, it is unclear whether this will happen and when it will happen, given everything that is occurring at present.

To read HR3797 in full, click here.

EVERYONE SHOULD WRITE THEIR U.S. CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE AND THEIR TWO SENATORS AND REQUEST THAT THEY SUPPORT THIS BILL.

Click here to go to our Marijuana Law Blog page and read my prior blog on this subject to learn more.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys for Medical and Recreational Marijuana Concerns.

The Health Law Firm attorneys can assist health care providers and facilities, such as doctors, pharmacists, and pharmacies, wanting to participate in the medical marijuana industry. We can properly draft and complete the applications for registration, permitting, and/or licensing while complying with Florida law. We can also represent doctors, pharmacies, and pharmacists facing proceedings brought by state regulators or agencies.

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:

Reisman, Sam. “House Committee Advances Medical Marijuana Research Bill.” Law360. (September 9, 2020).

Rashidian, Nushin. “Key House Committee Advances Cannabis Research Bill.” Cannabis Newswire. (September 9, 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 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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