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

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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.

Multiple Settlements with HHS for HIPAA Security Rule Violations & Data Breaches

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

In September 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced three settlements to resolve alleged violations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules. The settlements, totaling $10.6 million, stem from data breaches in which hackers were able to access and obtain individuals’ protected health information (PHI) from U.S. health providers. Combined, the three hacking incidents compromised the health information of more than 16 million patients.

Summary of the HIPAA Security Rule Settlements.

On September 21, 2020, the Office of Civil Rights, or OCR, the division of HHS which receives and investigates HIPAA complaints, announced a settlement with an orthopedic clinic in Georgia. The clinic agreed to pay $1.5 million after a 2016 hacking incident that compromised over 200,000 patient records. Part of the settlement included a Corrective Action Plan, or CAP, which the clinic agreed to adopt, to help prevent future breaches of privacy. Click here to view the resolution agreement and Corrective Action Plan (CAP).

On September 24, 2020, the OCR publicized a settlement with an information technology (IT) and health information management company. The business agreed to pay $2.3 million to settle claims of systemic security rule violations relating to a 2014 hacking incident impacting the personal health information (PHI) of more than 6 million individuals. Click here to read the settlement agreement.

Days later, the OCR released information about a $6.85 million settlement with Premera Blue Cross, the largest health plan in the Pacific Northwest. The settlement, the second largest to date, related to a 2015 cyber-attack which exposed the health information of more than 10 million individuals. To read the resolution agreement in full, click here.

In regard to these settlements, the OCR alleged that the following security rule violations had occurred:

1. Failure to conduct an adequate and thorough risk analysis;

2. Failure to implement sufficient mechanisms to record and examine system activities;

3. Failure to enter into business associate agreements with vendors with access to electronic protected health information;

4. Failure to implement reasonable security measures to reduce risks and vulnerabilities;

5. Failure to respond to and document a known security incident;

6. Failure to implement technical policies and procedures regarding access; and

7. Failure to implement procedures to regularly review system activity logs and reports.

Readers could use the above as a compliance checklist to make sure their own systems of records are being properly protected.

Consequences of HIPAA Rule Noncompliance.

The HIPAA Security Rule establishes a set of national standards for confidentiality, integrity, and availability of e-PHI. HHS is responsible for administering and enforcing these standards, along with enforcement of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Therefore, the agency may conduct complaint investigations and compliance reviews. To learn more details about the HIPAA Security Rule, click here.

HHS looks for systems failures, prior breaches, missing risk analyses, or absence of or inadequate HIPAA policies. Without question, any compliance violations will result in an enforcement action. And as these three settlements have demonstrated, enforcement can be costly.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late, Protect Yourself from HIPAA Security Rule Compliance Violations.

Businesses and organizations need to acknowledge the need to act and create a HIPAA security rule compliance plan. Locating existing security policies and the last completed risk analysis is an essential step in compliance. If it’s been over a year, perform or update risk analysis to identify risks or vulnerabilities on all systems that contain any e-PHI. Security rule compliance requires regular attention and detailed records. Take steps now to help protect e-PHI from data breaches, and avoid millions of dollars in settlements or fines.


Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Defending HIPAA Complaints and Violations.

The Health Law Firm represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals, and other healthcare providers and institutions to investigate and defend alleged HIPAA complaints and violations and prepare Corrective Action Plans (CAPs). Our attorneys regularly defend OCR HIPAA audits, defend in HIPAA complaint investigations, assist in preparing a HIPAA Risk Analyses, defend in federal administrative actions and administrative hearing cases, and defend in civil or administrative litigation of HIPAA/breach of medical confidentiality law suits.

For more information about HIPAA violations, electronic health records or corrective action plans (CAPs) please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620.

Sources:

Kraus, Anna and Carrier, Tara. “HHS Announces Multiple HIPAA Settlements Related to Data Breaches and the Right of Access Initiative.” Lexology. (October 6, 2020). Web.

Castricone, Dena. “The Crushing Cost Of HIPAA Security Rule Noncompliance.” Law360. (October 1, 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

You’ve Been Accused of Impairment or Misconduct, What Happens Now?

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

In an industry that revolves around helping others, physicians and other health professionals sometimes find that they are the ones being pushed toward a treatment program. Long hours, heavy workloads, and stress among health care professionals can sometimes lead to unsafe, unprofessional behavior and impairment allegations.

We routinely work with nurses, and other health professionals who are accused by employers, hospitals, competitors, or terminated employees of impairment due to drug or alcohol abuse, or mental impairment, of being a “disruptive physician” or of sexual boundary issues. However, not all nurses and health professionals who are referred to a health program are in actual need of rehabilitation services.


What is the Impaired Practitioners Program?

The Florida Department of Health’s (DOH) Impaired Practitioners Program (IPN), Section 456.067, Florida Statutes, is administered by the Intervention Project for Nurses or “IPN” (for nurses and nurse practitioners) and by the Professionals Resource Network or “PRN” (for physicians, dentists, pharmacists, and all other health professionals). IPN is responsible for all nurses and works with and through the Florida Board of Nursing. PRN works with and through the Florida Board of Medicine, Board of Dentistry, Board of Pharmacy, and other Department of Health Professional Boards.


You Report Yourself to IPN; What Happens Now?

These types of allegations discussed above made against a nurse or other health professional are extremely serious because they are usually treated by the DOH as “Priority 1” or “Fast Track” offenses. This means that the charges against the individual will usually be automatically considered for an Emergency Suspension Order (ESO) issued by the Florida Surgeon General at the request of the Department of Health. Unless a qualified, experienced health care attorney is able to immediately produce reliable documentation and evidence showing the health professional is not impaired, the Surgeon General will usually issue an ESO. Click here to read one of my prior blogs to learn more.

Even in cases where the individual may actually have committed an offense, there are a number of administrative and procedural measures that may be used to avoid a suspended license. For the innocent health professional, an experienced attorney familiar with such matters may be able to obtain additional drug testing, polygraph (lie detector) testing, medical examinations, scientific evidence, expert witnesses, evaluations by certified addictions professionals, character references, or other evidence which may help to show innocence and lack of impairment.


Call an Attorney Immediately, Before Making Any Decisions or Calls!

If you are accused of wrongdoing, especially accusations involving drug or alcohol abuse or impairment, even if you are threatened with being reported to the DOH or the Board of Nursing, then it may be much better to defend yourself and fight such charges instead of trying to “take the easy way out.” This is especially true if you are being falsely accused. There are many problems that you can avoid by having good legal advice before you make a stupid mistake. We are often consulted and retained by clients when, after they have made the mistake of talking to the wrong people about the wrong things, they are in a situation they could have avoided.

Our firm has extensive experience in representing nurses, physicians, and other professionals accused of drug abuse, alcohol impairment, mental impairment, and sexual boundary issue, as well as in dealing with the IPN and the PRN, their advantages and disadvantages, their contracts, their policies and procedures, and their requirements.

The bottom line is: if you are accused of drug impairment, alcohol impairment, drug diversion, sexual boundary issues, sexual misconduct, or of being mentally or physically impaired, immediately contact an attorney experienced with IPN and PRN and with the Board of Nursing, Board of Medicine, Board of Dentistry, Board of Pharmacy, and other professional boards. Don’t risk losing your livelihood by just taking the apparently easy way out without checking into it. There may be other options available for you, especially if you are innocent and not impaired.

To read one of my prior blogs about the recent changes to Florida’s Impaired Practitioners Program, click here.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys in Matters Involving IPN.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses, physicians, dentists, and other health professionals in matters involving PRN or IPN. Our attorneys also represent health providers in Department of Health investigations, before professional boards, in licensing matters, and in administrative hearings.

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:

Masterson, Les. “Physician wellness, quality of care go hand-in-hand, analysis finds.” Healthworks Collective. (September 10, 2018). Web.

Maria Panagioti, Keith Geraghty, Judith Johnson. “Association Between Physician Burnout and Patient Safety, Professionalism, and Patient Satisfaction.” Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). (September 4, 2018). 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., 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.

Nurses: Follow These 30 Tips for Professional Correspondence

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

I review many letters, e-mails, memoranda, and other types of correspondence prepared by my physician and nurse clients during my legal representation. These come to me often because of a dispute with a hospital, their peers, an insurance company, a lawsuit filed by a patient, a complaint being investigated by the licensing agency, an investigation of an incident, or another serious matter.

In many cases, way too many cases, such correspondence is unprofessional and defeats the purpose of the reason you are sending the correspondence.  Sometimes the “letter” is so bad, it will be disregarded by the reader to whom it was directed.  I have seen this from doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, owners of health care businesses, and many, many other highly educated professionals who really should know better.

When I receive a “letter” that has no return address on it, no date on it, is not addressed to a person or organization, has typographical errors and misspellings, does not have paragraphing, or which is not signed, I cringe.

When such documents are dictated and transcribed by a professional medical transcriptionist, they are usually properly formatted and many of the errors I note below are avoided.  However, when the health professional types (or word-processes) his or her own document or, worse yet, hand writes it, this is when I see the most errors.

To avoid these errors that make your correspondence and written communications look unprofessional, follow these tips.


Remember Why You Are Writing.

Remember, the basic purpose of your correspondence is to communicate ideas effectively. In many cases, it will be to invoke your legal rights in certain situations (such as an appeal or a hearing request). Sometimes, it will attempt to persuade your hospital, peers, or employer to take a certain action or refrain from a certain action. Remember that your correspondence is often the first impression that the other side will have of you. Do you want it to be an impression that you are sloppy, lazy, unprofessional, not knowledgeable, uneducated, or confused?

Whether you are communicating in a letter or via e-mail, these rules still hold true.  In many (if not all) situations involving legal proceedings or legal issues, it is probably best to communicate via a letter sent by U.S. mail or some other reliable delivery service (e.g., Federal Express, Airborne Express, DHL, etc.).  Even if you are transmitting your information via an e-mail, it is my suggestion to prepare it in the form of a paper letter (if your e-mail is not set up to insert your letterhead and signature block automatically) and then scan it in and send it electronically.

I discourage legal communications via e-mail in serious matters because e-mails are often difficult to obtain, isolate, and authenticate when you need them for hearings.  Additionally, they are rarely secure, often available to many others who shouldn’t see them and easily susceptible to being accidentally sent to others who should not see them at all.

Horror Stories of Unprofessional Correspondence.

Why do I feel this article is necessary?  Because of all the truly horrible correspondence I have seen written by allegedly highly educated professionals, mostly physicians and nurses.  That’s why!

True “Horror Stories” About Unprofessional Correspondence.

Here are just a few examples of true “horror stories” regarding unprofessional correspondence:

The physician never wrote a separate response to any charges or allegations made against him after receiving letters from the Medical Staff advising him he was under investigation.  He would just handwrite (scribble, actually) his remarks on the bottoms and in the margins of whatever document was sent to him and then send it back.

A nurse practitioner was required to respond to serious negligence charges, resulting in an adverse outcome to a patient. On unlined paper, she hand wrote a response letter that was not addressed to anyone, not dated, not signed, and did not state who was sending it. There was no name or signature on it.

A physician was required to provide his analysis of a patient’s case for peer review purposes within the hospital.  His typed letter of three full pages, single-spaced, contained one long paragraph.  I used to work for a Medical Corps Admiral when I was a Navy JAG Corps officer.  The Admiral, a very educated and proper professional, would just glance at such correspondence and state:  “I can tell this doctor doesn’t have any idea what he is talking about.”  Failing to follow good correspondence procedures will show others your thoughts lack organization and cohesion.  A document that lacks organization reflects a mind that lacks organization.

A health professional was required to complete an application for clinical privileges.  He wrote all of the answers by hand, not even staying within the lines on the form, writing over the questions printed on the form and around in the margins of the application.  This is what he signed and turned in to the credentials committee at the hospital.  Believe me, this did not look very professional.

A physician was requested to respond to a medical staff inquiry from the hospital.  Her response came back typed (actually word-processed) in a type font that was 22 characters per inch (cpi), almost too small to read.  Perhaps she was just trying to save a sheet of paper.  But many of us would have had to pull out a magnifying glass or put on reading glasses in order to be able to read it.  Once it is scanned or faxed and then photocopies or re-scanned and re-faxed several times, it will be completely illegible.  If you are actually trying to communicate your ideas, make your correspondence easier to read, not harder to read.  This is my cardinal rule.

A dentist was notified of a pending complaint investigation being opened against her dental license.  She wrote her response to the charges back to the investigator, without using any business address or title, and began her response statement “Dear Sharon,”.  Do not treat others informally, especially in professional or formal situations.  You will be deemed to be unprofessional when you do so.  The investigator is not your friend, your sister, or your mommy.  Do not address her by her first name. Do not end the salutation with a comma, like you would a love letter.  End it with a colon like you would a professional business letter.


30 Tips for Good Professional Correspondence.

Here are some pointers on professional communications that should be followed in all of your professional written communications about business, professional or legal matters, even in e-mails. Please note, the terms below in quotation marks have certain defined meanings.  If you don’t know what these terms mean, look them up.

1.  Always remember that the reason you are sending the correspondence is to attempt to effectively and accurately communicate your position and ideas.  If you are trying to make your message indecipherable or difficult to understand, ignore these tips.  If you are trying to come across as someone who doesn’t give a damn about how he or she is perceived, ignore these tips.  If you want to come across as unprofessional, ignore these tips.

2.  Make sure you include your complete and correct “return address” and contact information, if you are not using your own letterhead.  This includes your physical or mailing address, telephone number, telefax number and e-mail address, so that the other party knows exactly how to reach you.  In cases where you already have this on your letterhead, be sure to use your letterhead (but only your own).  Also, it appears more professional to create a letterhead with the information in it and to use your new letterhead instead of having a professional business letter with a typed “return address.”  However, a typed “return address” is better than none.

3.  Don’t use someone else’s letterhead.  Don’t use your hospital, medical group or institutional letterhead for your own personal communications, unless you are the owner.  Use your personal letterhead (see above), instead.  If you are being accused of poor utilization review, unprofessional conduct, or personal use of hospital (or company) property, then using someone else’s letterhead just helps prove the charge against you.

4.  Date your correspondence.  Date your correspondence.  Date your correspondence.  Nothing shows a lack of professionalism and lack of attention to detail as sharply as undated correspondence.  It will certainly be difficult to prove when your letter or document was sent if you do not have a date on it.  A year or two later, it may be completely impossible to do so.  In case I forgot to mention it, be sure to date your correspondence.

5.  Use titles or honorifics.  In the “business address” of your correspondence, always use the complete name of the person to whom you are writing (if known) together with that person’s honorific or professional title (e.g., Mr., Ms., Dr., Nurse, Prof., Dean, etc.)  This shows both respect and professionalism.

6.  Always use the complete mailing address, including title, of the person to whom you are sending the letter.  In the business address of your correspondence include not only the person’s name and honorifics, but title or position and division within the institution or organization to which you are sending it.  In the case of large organizations, you should include the building and suite or room numbers and any internal routing codes, designations, “mail stops” or other organizational routing codes, that the agency or business you are writing requires to route its mail internally.  Large organizations, especially government agencies and insurance companies, all have large mail rooms which sort and route all mail the organization receives from any source.  Correct internal routing codes will help ensure that your correspondence gets to the correct person or official in a timely manner.  Often today companies scan or have all e-mails saved by a clerk, as well

7.  Always use a salutation.  This is self-explanatory, but see below.

8.  In your “salutation,” always use the person’s last name with a title or honorific.  It is customary to use the term “Dear” in a salutation in formal writing, so this is permitted.  But you may leave it out.  For example, “Dear Secretary Jones:” or “Secretary Jones:” or “Dear Dr. Johnson:” or “Dr. Johnson:”;  all of these are correct.  Never refer to the person by that person’s first name in any type of formal correspondence or correspondence that anyone else might read.  Never say:  “Dear Sue:” or “Sharon:”.  Even if you know these people well enough to call them by their first names, don’t do it in this situation;  it’s unprofessional and may be interpreted as “talking down” to the person.

9.  Always end your “salutation” with a colon, not a comma.  A comma is only used in informal communications to those you know well or socially, such as a letter to your mother or a note to your girlfriend.  Unless this is your mother or your girlfriend to whom you are writing, use a colon.  For example, “Dear Secretary Jones,” or “Dear Sue,” is incorrect.  “Dear Secretary Jones:” or “Ms. Smith:” is correct.

10.  Type (or word-process) your correspondence or have it typed (or word-processed) for you;  this is one reason transcriptionists, secretaries and clerks have jobs.  Do not send handwritten letters in formal or professional matters.  Do not write on the other person’s correspondence or documents and send them back.  Prepare and send a professional looking letter or e-mail, even if you must pay someone to type it for you (and if you are sending an e-mail, I know you can type a little bit yourself, anyway).  To do otherwise is to show laziness, disrespect and unprofessionalism.

11.  Always use a type font in your correspondence (including e-mails) of at least 12 points (10 characters per inch).  Do not use a small, difficult to read type fonts, for example, the size of the type font that most e-mail software defaults to.  Smaller type fonts than 12 points become difficult to read, especially if scanned/rescanned, faxed/refaxed or copied/recopied.  Change the default font in your e-mail software or computer word processing software, if necessary.  You can do this, regardless of how difficult it may seem at first;  I know you can do it, because I can do it.  Make your professional correspondence easier to read, not more difficult to read.

12.  Never use unprofessional looking type fonts for your communications.  Stay away from script type fonts, italics or novelty type fonts.  These are notoriously more difficult to read and look unprofessional.  You are not publishing a flyer for a high school bake sale.  Times New Roman, CG Times, and similar type fonts are more professional looking and easier for a person to read.  Use Courier or Letter Gothic type fonts if necessary.

13.  Keep the correspondence to which you are responding unmarked.  One reason to not write on or mark up the other person’s documents or correspondence is that you may need them as evidence in a court of law or a hearing some day.  Nothing looks less professional than a document you are trying to use as evidence when a different person has made handwritten marks all over it.  The impression is similar to one in which a child with a box of crayons has gotten to it.  You don’t want this or need this.  Show respect and self-control.  Keep the other side’s documents pristine.  They will look much better that way as your “Exhibit 1” in the court hearing.

14.  Use a good concise, descriptive reference line or subject line (often called the “re:” line).  Make it a very brief summary.  State what the content of your letter is actually about.  State if you are responding to a letter or document that you received from the “addressee” (the person to whom you are addressing your correspondence) of your letter.

15.  Include the recipient’s routing information.  If the intended receiver of your letter or correspondence (the “addressee”) included reference numbers, file numbers, account numbers, case name and numbers, a policy number, an investigation number, a routing number, or other similar information on its letter to you, repeat these back in the reference line of your correspondence.  This will help make sure that your correspondence gets routed to the correct file and recipient more timely.  This is especially crucial in large organizations and government agencies.

16.  The contents of the body of your correspondence should be easy to read and easy to understand.  To this end, be sure to use short sentences and short paragraphs.  Each paragraph should convey one idea.  Use headers and section titles, if necessary, to organize your correspondence, especially if it is lengthy.  Remember, headings within your letter that help to organize it are like street signs in a busy city.  They will really help any subsequent reader (and this may be a judge, a jury or a Board of Mediciney) to navigate his, her or its way through your letter.

17.  Be sure to skip a line between each paragraph and, preferably, indent the first line of each paragraph.  [Note:  Some writers will tell you not to indent the first line of each paragraph in professional correspondence;  however, I feel that this makes the correspondence more difficult to read, so I encourage indenting or tabbing in on the first line of each paragraph.]  This makes it easier on the reader and more likely that your ideas will not get lost in a crowd of words.

18.  Keep your paragraphs short and to the point.  Nothing turns readers off as much as a single lengthy paragraph written from margin to margin taking up the whole page.  I suppose some people may have never been taught what paragraphs are.  However, I am willing to bet that most were.  These rare used even in foreign countries.

19.  In longer correspondence, use section headings (in bold or underlined) or headings for each issue, to better organize it.  Think of these as road signs on a long road.  They help the reader to know where he or she is at any given time, and where he or she is going.

20.  When using headers, skip two lines before the header and one line after the header. This helps to set off the new section and header and show a definite division.

21.  Keep your language objective and professional.  Do not ever use profanity [Oops, I just went back and removed the word “damn” I used above.]  Do not ever use any comments even remotely resembling racism, sexism, or antisemitism or prejudice.  Do not be sarcastic.

22.  Be direct and concise in your language.  To the greatest extent possible, use the same terminology and wording that the other party uses, or has used, or the wording used in whatever statutes, regulations, policies, procedures, instructions, or governing documents with which you are dealing (but also, be sure you know what the words and terms mean).

23.  If you intend to request a formal hearing say “I request a formal hearing.”  If you want a full refund, state:  “I request a full refund.”  If you want to appeal the decision, state:  “I want to appeal the decision.”  Don’t be wishy-washy or vague.  For example, don’t say, “I am looking for an attorney to file an appeal for me,” when what you mean to say is “I appeal the decision” or “I request an appeal.”  Say precisely what you want.  Don’t be vague or leave the reader guessing.

24.  If there are any deadlines by which you must respond, be aware of these and make sure your response is received by that date.  Remember “received” means “actually received” by the correct person (or office) at the correct address.  It does not mean “mailed by” or “postmarked by.”  If you have correspondence or a document to which a response must be received by a ceratin date, you need to make sure it is actually in the receiving person’s hands by that date, even if you must hand carry it to that person.  I will usually send important documents by two different methods, in case the mail man dies, the courier service’s plan crashes or the e-mail server goes down.

25.  In closing your correspondence conclude by stating what action is next, whether this is action you intend to take, or action you are requesting the other party to take.  For example:  “I expect to hear from you within ten days as to whether you grant my request or not.”  “Please contact me with hearing dates within the next fourteen days.”  “I will forward you a refund within five days.”  “I will send you my records within five days.”

26.  Always advise the other party of exactly how they should contact you;  provide multiple means of contacting you.  If you are very busy or have an assistant who is authorized to act for you, provide that person’s name and contact information to use as an alternate, as well.  Then be available to receive the return communication(s).  Don’t give telephone numbers you never answer.  Don’t provide an incorrect address (e-mail or physical).

27.  In dealing with dates and deadlines, remember that ten days is ten days;  fourteen days is fourteen days, twenty-one days is twenty-one days.  Made up rules such as “weekends and holidays don’t count” are just that, made up (outside of formal court proceedings).  If the other party has given you “fourteen days to respond,” this means fourteen days from the date on the letter, unless specifically stated otherwise.  Fourteen days means fourteen days, unless it is specifically stated otherwise (e.g., “you have fourteen business days to reply”).

28.  Include a professional closing above your signature.  This should be “Sincerely,” “Sincerely yours,” “Respectfully,” “Respectfully submitted,” or some other professional closing.  Do not conclude with “Love,” or “Very truly yours,” despite the tradition.

29.  In your signature block, include your full typed name, with credentials and title or position listed.  For example, your full name, followed by your degree and other credentials (e.g.,  “John J. Smith, M.D., F.A.A.C.P.”) should be on the line immediately below where you sign.  Next should be listed your position within your organization (if applicable) (e.g., “Chair, Pediatrics Department”).

30.  If you have enclosures, list them at the end of the correspondence, giving a brief or shortened description and numbering them (this is slightly different from military correspondence).  List and number them in the order you discuss them in your correspondence.  Be sure they are properly organized, labeled and divided, especially if any are lengthy.

Following these simple rules, most people learn in middle school will help to keep your correspondence professional looking and in conformity with what most professionals see on a daily basis.  If your correspondence is professional-looking, people will be more likely to think you are a professional and to treat you professionally.

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

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely provide legal representation to nurses, physicians, medical groups, pharmacistspharmaciesphysicians, and other health providers. We 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 (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., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

KeyWords:  representation for Professional correspondence, The Health Law Firm, legal representation for health care physicians, health care professional representation, defense lawyer for health care professionals, reviews of The Health Law Firm, tips for professional correspondence, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews, representation for professional letters, healthcare professional letter representation, representation for correspondence for doctors and nurses, professional correspondence for legal dispute, Florida health law attorney, legal representation for nurses, nurse defense lawyer, physician defense lawyer, reviews of The Health Law Firm, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews

“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 |2021-02-18T14:45:34-05:00February 26th, 2021|Categories: Nursing Law Blog|0 Comments

Impaired Practitioner Programs: What To Do if You’ve Been Accused?

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

In an industry that revolves around helping others, physicians and other health professionals sometimes find that they are the ones being pushed toward a treatment program. Long hours, heavy workloads, and stress among health care professionals can sometimes lead to unsafe, unprofessional behavior and impairment allegations.

We routinely work with physicians, nurses, and other health professionals who are accused by employers, hospitals, competitors, or terminated employees of impairment due to drug or alcohol abuse, or mental impairment, of being a “disruptive physician” or of sexual boundary issues. However, not all physicians and health professionals who are referred to a health program are in actual need of rehabilitation services.

What is the Impaired Practitioners Program?

The Florida Department of Health’s (DOH) Impaired Practitioners Program (IPN), Section 456.067, Florida Statutes, is administered by the Intervention Project for Nurses or “IPN” (for nurses and nurse practitioners) and by the Professionals Resource Network or “PRN” (for physicians, dentists, pharmacists, and all other health professionals). IPN is responsible for all nurses and works with and through the Florida Board of Nursing. PRN works with and through the Florida Board of Medicine, Board of Dentistry, Board of Pharmacy, and other Department of Health Professional Boards.

You Are Instructed to Report Yourself to IPN or PRN; What Now?

These types of allegations discussed above made against a physician, nurse, or other health professional are extremely serious because they are usually treated by the DOH as “Priority 1” or “Fast Track” offenses. This means that the charges against the individual will usually be automatically considered for an Emergency Suspension Order (ESO) issued by the Florida Surgeon General at the request of the Department of Health. Unless a qualified, experienced health care attorney is able to immediately produce reliable documentation and evidence showing the health professional is not impaired, the Surgeon General will usually issue an ESO. Click here to read one of my prior blogs to learn more.

Even in cases where the individual may actually have committed an offense, there are a number of administrative and procedural measures that may be used to avoid a suspended license. For the innocent health professional, an experienced attorney familiar with such matters may be able to obtain additional drug testing, polygraph (lie detector) testing, medical examinations, scientific evidence, expert witnesses, evaluations by certified addictions professionals, character references, or other evidence which may help to show innocence and lack of impairment.

Call an Attorney Immediately, at the Beginning, and Prior to Making Any Decisions or Calls!

If you are accused of wrongdoing, especially accusations involving drug or alcohol abuse or impairment, even if you are threatened with being reported to the DOH or your professional board, then it may be much better to defend yourself and fight such charges instead of trying to “take the easy way out.” This is especially true if you are being falsely accused. There are many problems that you can avoid by having good legal advice before you make a stupid mistake. We are often consulted and retained by clients when, after they have made the mistake of talking to the wrong people about the wrong things, they are in a situation they could have avoided.

Our firm has extensive experience in representing physicians and other professionals accused of drug abuse, alcohol impairment, mental impairment, and sexual boundary issue, as well as in dealing with the IPN and the PRN, their advantages and disadvantages, their contracts, their policies, and procedures, and their requirements.

The bottom line is: if you are accused of drug impairment, alcohol impairment, drug diversion, sexual boundary issues, sexual misconduct, or of being mentally or physically impaired, immediately contact an attorney experienced with IPN and PRN and with the Board of Medicine, Board of Nursing, Board of Dentistry, Board of Pharmacy, and other professional boards. Don’t risk losing your livelihood by just taking the apparently easy way out without checking into it. There may be other options available for you, especially if you are innocent and not impaired.

To read one of my prior blogs about the recent changes to Florida’s Impaired Practitioners Program, click here.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys in Matters Involving PRN or IPN.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent physicians, dentists, nurses, and other health professionals in matters involving PRN or IPN. Our attorneys also represent health providers in Department of Health investigations, before professional boards, in licensing matters, and in administrative hearings.

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:

Masterson, Les. “Physician wellness, quality of care go hand-in-hand, analysis finds.” Healthworks Collective. (September 10, 2018). Web.

Maria Panagioti, Keith Geraghty, Judith Johnson. “Association Between Physician Burnout and Patient Safety, Professionalism, and Patient Satisfaction.” Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). (September 4, 2018). 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., 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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