By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
A subpoena purportedly issued by the Clerk of Court for Seminole County, Florida, recently requested academic records on advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) students, including preceptorship agreements for clinical courses they had taken. A follow-up inquiry revealed that the Florida Department of Health was behind the subpoena, seeking evidence concerning possible fraudulent practices involving the supervision of those clinicals.
Apparently South University, which has its main campus and headquarters located in Savannah, Georgia, but offers courses in Florida, had agreements with one or more physicians in the Orlando area to furnish training for nurse practitioner students within their medical practices. Under the terms of the agreement, the physician was required to provide a nurse practitioner to supervise the student taking the clinicals.
However, what is being investigated is the allegation that no nurse practitioners were actually used to supervise those clinicals and the students. Instead, it is apparently being alleged that the names of various licensed advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) were used without their knowledge and put down as the supervisors for those students’ clinicals. Supposedly at least 20 names of nurse practitioners have been fraudulently used in this manner. Apparently the names of the nurse practitioners were also fraudulently signed to attestations that the students had actually completed the hours of clinical training. Usually there were four quarters or rotations of clinicals required of each student, encompassing hundreds of hours of clinical time.
It is estimated that over 100 advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) students went through this program and graduated. Based on their advanced degrees, they were licensed as advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) by the Florida Department of Health.
Will those unsupervised student clinical hours be disallowed?
The question is whether action will be taken by the Florida Department of Health, or another organization, to disallow those clinical nurse practitioner hours gained by students in this manner. If so, many who are currently licensed as nurse practitioners who went through this program may lose their licenses and be required to retake required clinical hours. Both the students and the college were apparently unaware of the fraudulent activity.
This case is reminiscent of the massage therapist cases rising in 2012.
This situation seems somewhat similar to the situation that over 180 Florida licensed massage therapists (LMTs) found themselves during 2012. Click here to read one of our prior blogs on this story.
In the case of the massage therapists, each of them had taken courses and graduated from a school in another state. However, when they moved to Florida they had to have the courses re-certified by a Florida approved college and take the additional required courses for Florida licensure. They went to a well known, reputable private college offering massage therapy courses. They paid their tuition and were provided documentation showing that their out of state credits had been transferred in. They were provided other documents by the college showing that they had completed all course requirements and met the standards for licensure. They received their Florida licenses based on this.
Later it was discovered that the registrar at that college had actually been stealing the tuition money paid by these massage therapists and not enrolling them in the college. She was falsifying college documents, including course completion certificates, diplomas, transcripts and other documents using the college’s official seal on them. To see a class action law suit filed discussing this scheme in greater detail, click here.
When the Florida Department of Health found out about this situation, it reacted in a “knee-jerk” fashion and did an emergency suspension of hundreds of massage therapist’s licenses, many of them with no advance notice to the massage therapists. To see a blog I wrote on this, click here.
Hundreds of massage therapist who could not afford to pay a lawyer to mount a legal defense wound up having their licenses revoked or felt compelled to voluntary relinquish their licenses. They lost their national certification in massage therapy because of this.
However, the massage therapists who challenged the revocation and demanded a formal administrative hearing on it, many of whom we represented, were successful in keeping their licenses, mainly because they were not at fault and did not know what the crooked registrar was doing.
Actions to take if you are a nurse practitioner notified of licensure action or that you are under investigation:
Following are the recommendations we would make to any potential client contacting us who has been notified that he or she may be under investigation by the Florida Department of Health or law enforcement authorities:
1. Do not talk to or make any statement, oral or written, to any investigator without first consulting with an experienced health law attorney.
2. Immediately obtain the services of an experienced health law attorney to represent you in the case.
3. Check with your professional liability insurance carrier for any professional liability insurance you had at the time or currently have to see if they will cover the matter. Your current policy may not cover it unless you had it when the events occurred. However, it might.
4. Do not respond to any subpoena for records for testimony until you have consulted with an experienced health law attorney. Even a current professional liability insurance policy should cover you in responding to a subpoena or if a deposition is sought.
5. Do not, under any circumstances, voluntarily relinquish your license, without retaining any experienced health law attorney familiar with this matter to represent you. Such a relinquishment may be the equivalent of a revocation and reported to national reporting bodies as such.
6. If charges arise and you are offered the right to a hearing, always elect a formal administration hearing at which you dispute the issues. Do not elect an informal hearing. In an informal hearing, you have to agree that the charges against you are true, in effect, admitting you are guilty. Do not make that common mistake.
If you desire to see information on emergency suspension orders and emergency restriction orders, click here.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Department of Health (DOH) Investigations of Nurse Practitioners.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to nurses, nursing students and ARNPs in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, licensure defense representation, investigation representation, Department of Health investigations, Board of Nursing investigations , administrative hearings, emergency suspension orders, emergency restriction orders 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.
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.
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