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Senators Want National Investigation of State Medical Boards

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

A bipartisan effort has been initiated by three U.S. Senators to launch a national evaluation of state medical boards. Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) sent a letter to the director of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requesting an investigation into state medical boards at the end of February 2012.

In the letter the senators ask the OIG to launch a national investigation of state medical boards in which the OIG would:

  • Identify challenges and process improvements for state medical boards, including those that occur across state boundaries;
  • Identify legislative changes that would better facilitate the transfer of information from federal agencies to state medical boards and between state medical boards, including as it affects those physicians needing multiple state licenses such as those practicing telemedicine;
  • Evaluate state medical board performance, including the timeliness and consistency of decision making; and
  • Determine whether the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services'(CMS) Quality Improvement Organizations (QIOs) and/or Part A/Part B Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs) report adverse information, including Medicare revocations based on felony convictions, to state medical boards or the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB).

The OIG has not undertaken an investigation of this magnitude of state medical boards in over fifteen (15) years.

The U.S. Senate letter dated February 15, 2012 can be seen here.

If this proposed federal investigation proceeds, it is likely that more disciplinary actions will be filed against health professionals. State medical boards may feel pressure to suspend or revoke more health care licenses, which could result in a slower administrative proceeding process.

For more information about state medical boards and disciplinary actions against health providers, visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources Include:

Christensen, Pia. “Senators Request Inquiry Into State Medical Boards.” American Association of Health Journalists. (Feb. 15, 2012). From
http://www.healthjournalism.org/blog/2012/02/senators-request-inquiry-into-state-medical-boards/

Oh, Jaime. “U.S. Senators Call for Federal Investigation Into State Boards’ Action on Physicians.” Becker’s Hospital Review. (Feb. 22, 2012). From
http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/quality/us-senators-call-for-federal-investigation-into-state-boards-action-on-physicians.html

Walker, Emily P. “Senators Want Medical Boards Investigated.” MedPage Today. (Feb. 21, 2012). From http://www.medpagetoday.com/PublicHealthPolicy/GeneralProfessionalIssues/31288

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

How Can I Tell Whether or Not My Attorney Knows Anything about Florida Board of Nursing or Disciplinary Cases?

indest1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Hiring an attorney can be intimidating and costly. However, hiring representation for a Florida Board of Nursing or disciplinary case is an investment in your future and career. An experienced attorney is indispensable for preparing and defending your case. But how do you know if your representation is knowledgeable in health law?

Below are some examples of what an experienced attorney will not say to a nurse about his or her Board of Nursing or disciplinary case. Remember, if you hear any of the advice below, the attorney most likely has limited or no experience in this area of legal practice.

1. Your attorney tells you that you can argue your case to the Board of Nursing.

Reason:

You cannot “argue your case” in front of the Board of Nursing. If you are at a hearing before the Board of Nursing, it is because you have requested an “informal hearing.”

If you have requested an “informal hearing” this means you do not dispute any of the facts alleged against you in the Department of Health (DOH) complaint. If you are not disputing the facts, this means you are agreeing that you are guilty. If you are at a hearing in front of the Board of Nursing, you will not be allowed to argue that you are not guilty, and you will not be allowed to call any witnesses or introduce any documents. You are only there for the purpose of determining how much punishment the Board will give you and this is based on guidelines that the Board has previously enacted.

2. If your attorney tells you that he or she does not intend to submit any information or documents for consideration by the Probable Cause Panel (PCP) of the Board of Nursing.

Reason:

Many cases are dismissed by the Probable Cause Panel (PCP) and this is the easiest, most expedient, and least expensive way of winning your case. However, your presentation (written only) that is submitted to the PCP must be direct, concise, directly address the legal issues, and be well organized. It is not advisable to try to prepare this yourself. We often include affidavits from our own expert witnesses that have reviewed the case. If the PCP does not vote in favor of probable cause, the case is dismissed and closed. It is like it never happened. There is no record kept of the initial complaint.

The PCP of the Board of Nursing consists of between two and four members. Some of these can be laypersons with no experience in your area of healthcare. A majority has to vote and decide that there is probable cause. Therefore, if there are only two members, and you convince one that you did not do it, then there is no probable cause.

In my opinion, this is the best and quickest way to win your case, but you must know what you are doing. There are exceptions to every rule.

3. If your attorney tells you to meet with the DOH investigator or to give a statement (written or oral) to the investigator, especially without being present or preparing you.

Reason:

DOH investigators are similar to police. If you give them any statement, this can be used to prove the case against you. In most cases, you never want to do this. Although there may be a rare exception, we strongly advise the client against this in about 99% of the cases we handle.

Even if you believe that you are totally innocent, your former employer, the unhappy patient who reported you, or the DOH prosecuting attorney may be convinced that you are not innocent and recommend that charges are prosecuted against you. Exhibit 1 used against you at a hearing will be your own statement. The first witness the DOH prosecutor will call to testify will be you.

Be smart in such matters. Don’t think you can just explain the case away. Don’t give evidence that can be used against you. It is not required under Florida law, and you cannot be compelled to do this.

4. If your attorney says you should call and negotiate with the DOH attorney, or PRN/IPN case manager.

Reason:

As discussed above, anything you say can and will be used against you. This is one of the main reasons you should retain an experienced attorney: to act as a buffer between you and the legal system, to protect you, and shield you from mistakes you make that could hurt your defense.

Additionally, if your attorney is not much more familiar with the DOH and the PRN/IPN procedures than you are, then why have you hired him or her?

5. If your attorney tells you not to worry about the hearing, you can later appeal.

Reason:

Only about 20% of cases are won on appeal. On appeal, the Court of Appeal is limited to the record of the hearing that was held. You are not allowed to reargue the facts in an appeal. You are limited to arguing about legal errors that were made during the hearing. If you don’t know the law, you are unable to effectively appeal.

6. If your attorney tells you that he or she can represent you during the investigation but is unable to “try” your case at an administrative hearing.

Reason:

Representation only through the PCP hearing stage simply is not enough. An attorney should have sufficient knowledge, experience, and skill to represent you throughout the entire case. If he or she does not, and formal administrative charges are recommended by the PCP, you will then need to retain a completely new attorney who will need time, effort, and legal fees to learn your case in order to properly represent you.

Additionally only an attorney who has experience in litigation cases against the DOH and your professional board will have the credibility and experience to negotiate the most favorable deal for you if you later desire to settle the case.

Consult With An Experienced Health Law Attorney.

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

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

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

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Join Us for Florida Laws and the Nurse: New Licensure Requirement

Join Joanne Kenna nurse attorney with The Health Law Firm and the Greater Orlando Chapter of the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants for:

FLORIDA LAWS AND THE NURSE – NEW LICENSURE REQUIREMENT:  Keep Your Patients Safe and Protect Your Nursing License

PROGRAM OBJECTIVES

The purpose of this is course is to provide nurses with knowledge of the Florida Laws and Rules that govern the practice of nursing in Florida, while meeting the 2015 requirement for Florida nurse licensure and renewal; and to provide valuable information regarding the structure and purpose of the Florida Board of Nursing Disciplinary Process and how to protect your nursing license by providing excellence in nursing care.

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Describe the purpose and provisions of the Health Professions and Occupations Statue, the Florida Nurse Practice Act and Florida Health Professions Regulations;
  • Describe nursing standards of practice and identify deviations in standards;
  • List the steps in the Florida Nursing Disciplinary Process;
  • List specific sources of nursing practice that have high potential for putting a nursing license at risk of discipline.
  • Describe resources and procedures to protect your nursing license and respond to disciplinary action by the Florida Board of Nursing.

Beginning with the biennium ending in 2015, each Florida Nursing licensee must complete a two hour course on the laws and rules that govern the practice of nursing in Florida.  This program is approved by the Board of Nursing to meet the requirement.

SPEAKERS FOR THIS PROGRAM ARE:

ATTORNEY JOANNE KENNA, RN, JD is an attorney, whose practice encompasses most aspects of health law and nursing law, including the representation of health care providers in professional licensing and credentialing matters, professional board representation, administrative hearings, contracts, licensure issues, corporate matters, transactional matters and litigation.  Ms. Kenna received her juris doctorate degree from Stetson University College of Law.  She has an extensive legal background including medical malpractice defense and nursing home defense.  Prior to law school, Ms. Kenna’s nursing career included at the University of Chicago Hospitals and Clinics included being the head nurse of the cardiac critical care units, a cardiac nursing instructor and cardiac nursing consultant.  She brings a vast amount of experience and expertise to her role in health law.

JUDY A. YOUNG, RN, MSN, MHL is a nurse with over 38 years experience, 20 of which were served in the US Air Force.  Judy is the owner of Florida Legal Nurse Experts, LLC, and works as an independent Legal Nurse Consultant.  Judy’s LNC experience includes defense of mass torts / product liability; expert witness for both plaintiff and defense; and behind the scenes LNC roles for both plaintiff and defense firms.  She currently does medical malpractice defense work.  She also remains clinically active in critical care.  In addition to decades of critical care experience, Judy has been a nursing school director and instructor, and has experience in nursing administration and flight nursing.  She has a master’s degree in nursing from University of Oklahoma, and a master’s degree in health law, from the Sheppard Broad Law Center, Nova Southeastern University, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

WHEN: October 28, 2014 – Social (light food) & Networking – 5:30 – 5:45 PM; Chapter Update Meeting 5:45 – 6:00 PM; and Education Program 6:00 – 8:00 PM.

CONTINUING EDUCATION CREDITS: 2.0 contact hours, as part of the total hours of continuing education required for initial licensure and biennial renewal, FL Administrative Code 64B9-5.011.  Approved by The Greater Orlando Chapter AALNC, FL Board of Nursing Continuing Education Provider #: 50-13.  LNCCs – This topic qualifies as contact hours that can be applied toward LNCC certification renewal.  If you are submitting this program as contact hours on application for LNCC renewal, report these hours on the application as nursing contact hours.

WHERE:  PLEASE NOTE NEW LOCATION!!!  We are now holding our Greater Orlando Chapter AALNC Meetings at University of Central Florida (UCF).  The street address is UCF Continuing Education, Innovative Center, 3280 Progress Drive, Suite 700, Orlando, FL 32826,  Room 722.

REGISTRATION:  If you plan to attend the meeting in person, PLEASE RSVP by contacting:  info@orlandoaalnc.org.  If you are a guest, please provide your name, address and FL nursing license number for continuing education credit and course completion certificates.

**NEW REGISTRATION INFORMATION:  Members and guests will be able to attend the program in person or “virtually” by logging in online.  Registration to attend the meeting online, will be completed through UCF Continuing Education.  Information regarding the online registration process will be sent ASAP.  The program will also be available for online attendance at any time after the live meeting.

FEES: The meeting / program is free to all Greater Orlando Chapter Members.  There will be a fee for guests:  $25.00 for in person attendance.  Virtual (online) attendance is also free for members, and $25.00 for guests.

Appealing Final Orders and Emergency Suspension Orders (ESOs)

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

George F. Indest III, Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The professional boards for licensed health professionals in Florida, such as the Board of Nursing, are all under the Florida Department of Health (DOH).  Each board is responsible for disciplinary actions and other matters regulating the professions under its authority.  The investigators and attorneys assigned for Board of Nursing matters all work for or are assigned to the DOH.  The Florida DOH is headed up by the Florida Surgeon General.  I think of the DOH as the umbrella agency over the professional boards or as a parent corporation which owns many subsidiary corporations.

Administrative Procedures Governing Investigations and Disciplinary Actions

All agency actions, especially disciplinary actions and investigations, are governed by the Florida Administrative Procedure Act (APA), Chapter 120, Florida Statutes.  The Florida APA is modeled after the Federal Administrative Procedure Act.  However, in addition to the Florida APA, DOH investigations and hearings may also be governed by several different provisions of Chapter 456, Florida Statutes, a set of laws which govern all licensed health professionals.

For example, Section 456.073, Florida Statutes, gives certain procedural steps that must be followed in investigations and probable cause hearings involving complaints against nurses and other health professionals.  Section 456.073(13), Florida Statutes, is a new section added several years ago that provides a six (6) year “statute of limitations” for many disciplinary matters;  but there are many exceptions to this.

Section 456.074, Florida Statutes, gives the Surgeon General the authority to issue emergency suspension orders (or “ESOs”) in certain cases.  Section 456.076, Florida Statutes, authorizes the establishment of treatment programs for impaired health professionals and offers some alternatives to disciplinary action.  To date, the only recognized programs are the Intervention Project for Nurses (IPN) (which covers all nursing professionals) and the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) (which covers almost all other health professionals).  Section 456.077, Florida Statutes, authorizes nondisciplinary citations for certain offenses.  Section 456.078, Florida Statutes, authorizes mediation for certain offenses.

Mistaken Advice Regarding Appeals

We are often consulted by nurses after they have an emergency suspension orders (or ESOs) entered against them or after they have a Final Order for disciplinary action entered against them.  We often hear that they consulted an attorney who advised them at an earlier stage of the proceedings to not worry about putting together and presenting a defense or disputing the charges at a formal administrative hearing.  We are told that they have been mistakenly advised that they should just wait and file an appeal because they are more likely to win on appeal.

This is, of course, incorrect advice.  If you compare these proceedings to criminal investigations, would any competent attorney advise you to not worry about preparing for a trial or contesting the charges at a trial?  Would any competent attorney advise you to just wait until you are convicted, because you could then file an appeal?  No, of course not.  This is because appeals are based on legal defects in the proceedings and do not involve any presentation of new facts that are not already in the record.  Additionally, very few cases are reversed on appeal, whether criminal, civil or administrative in nature.  So why give up your best shots at winning a case:  presenting a good case of factual information and documents at the investigation level or disputing the charges at a formal hearing?

Don’t Try to Be Your Own Attorney on an Appellate Matter

There are, of course, many valid legal grounds for appeals of emergency suspension orders (ESOs) and Final Orders.  However, you have to understand the law and the procedural rules that govern such matters in order to be able to identify them and argue them on appeal.  In addition, appellate law is a legal specialty of its own.  If you are not familiar with researching case law and writing legal briefs, you should not be attempting to appeal your own case.  Would you attempt to perform brain surgery on yourself?  If so, you should get your head examined.  The courts of appeal are far more exacting in their requirements than trial courts are. See The Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure.  However, most Florida courts of appeal also have their own local rules which may apply to appeals.

Grounds for appeal of an Emergency Suspension Order (ESO) include that less restrictive means of protecting the public were available or that the conduct alleged does not meet the legal requirement for imposing such a suspension.  Grounds for appeal of a Final Order include that the punishment it gives exceeds the disciplinary guidelines that each board has and that proper procedures were not followed which deprived the respondent of his or her right to a fair hearing.  There are many other grounds which one who practices regularly before the Board will be able to identify and raise in an appeal.

Where to Appeal May Be an Issue

The notice of appeal must be filed with the clerk of the DOH.  However, a copy must also be filed with the appropriate appellate court having jurisdiction.  The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee will have jurisdiction in almost all DOH and Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) appeals.  However, the District Court of Appeal which has jurisdiction over the county in which the respondent health professional resides will also have jurisdiction.  If the appellate case law of one of these is more favorable than the other, from a strategic viewpoint, it may be better to file in the one with the more favorable case law.

Alternative Actions to an Appeal May be Appropriate

Furthermore, there may be more effective and less expensive methods of obtaining relief from an emergency suspension orders (ESOs) or Final Order than an appeal.  If you are subject to an emergency suspension orders (ESOs), you have the right to an expedited hearing.  Sometimes this will result in quicker relief than appealing it.  If you are subject to a Final Order that has been issued in error or there was some mistake in the proceedings that led up to it, the Board may be inclined to reconsider the matter and amend it.

Always Carry Professional Liability Insurance that Includes Licensure Defense Coverage

We continue to recommend that all nursing personnel, especially those who work in hospitals, nursing homes or for agencies, carry your own professional liability insurance.  If you do purchase insurance, make sure it has professional license defense coverage that will pay for your legal defense in the event a complaint is filed against your nursing license.  Usually coverage of up to $25,000 comes with most good nursing liability policies.  There are many companies that sell such insurance for as little as $150 per year.  However, if you can get additional coverage, $50,000 is more likely to cover any foreseeable investigations, hearings and appeals.

Seek Legal Advice and Prepare Your Defenses Early

Always seek legal advice as soon as you suspect there may be a complaint of any kind or an investigation of any kind.  Don’t hide your head in the sand and think that the investigation could not possibly be about you.  Talk to an attorney before you talk to anyone else.  A good attorney will help to save you from making mistakes that could compromise a good legal defense.

Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com. to set up a consultation on any of the above issues.

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.

Disclaimer:  This article is for general information and education purposes only and must not be regarded as legal advice.

Copyright © George F. Indest III, Altamonte Springs, Florida, all rights reserved.  No part of this article may be reproduced or used without the permission of the author and owner.

Tips, Pointers and Reminders for Administrative Hearings

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

Formal administrative hearings are one of the options provided to a person who has significant (or substantial) interests that will be affected by agency action and who contests the material facts involved in the case.

In this blog, we are usually discussing a hearing involving the professional license of the nurse. In many cases this will be a notice of intent to deny a license application; however, in most cases, it will be based on an administrative complaint filed against the nurse charging the nurse with a violation of the Nurse Practice Act or other misconduct.

A formal administrative hearing is the only chance which is provided to a nurse to actually challenge the facts of the case and show, for example, that she is not guilty of the charges alleged against her. The formal administrative hearing is the only proceeding in which the nurse against whom the complaint is filed (called the “respondent”) may confront the evidence against her (documents and witnesses) and introduce her own evidence (including her own testimony, if desired), to show she is not
guilty of the charges.

Formal administrative hearings are governed by the Florida Administrative Procedure Act (APA), Chapter 120, Florida Statutes. Please see the separate chapter in this Manual on the Administrative
Procedure Act.

Our Tips, Pointers and Reminders for Administrative Hearings.

This is a partial checklist of some of the matters we check in preparing for administrative hearings. It is not complete and it may not apply in every case. It should serve as a reminder of certain issues that
should be checked up on prior to the actual date of the hearing.

1. If you need one, make sure to notify the ALJ or make a reservation for a televison monitor, VCR/DVD, projector, screen, or conference phone early (when the original order setting the hearing is received), and follow up with a confirmation letter to the hearing coordinator.

2. Make sure all witnesses testifying have been listed in your answers to interrogatories, and if not, amend your answers to include all witnesses. Also, check the witness list for the pre-hearing stipulation.

3. File all discovery responses/answers immediately when received, with the Clerk of the Division of Administrative Hearings, using a notice of filing, so these will be in the official record. If there is discovery not answered, do a motion to compel (except with requests
for admissions).

4. Some administrative law judges have ceratin procedures they require or certain things they don’t allow in hearing procedures. It is a good idea to check with someone else who has appeared before the ALJ to find out if that ALJ has any.

5. Go onto the Division of Administrative Hearing website, search for and review the last few recommended orders (ROs) and Final Orders on your administrative law judge ahead of time. This will give you an idea of what the administrative law judge is like and how he/she has ruled on various issues in the past. The DOAH website is (www.doah.state.fl.us). Go to case search, put in ALJ’s name and agency name (for example DOH) to obtain Recommended Orders on similar cases.

6. On the day of the hearing, get to the room at the final hearing site early to organize and re-set the room if necessary, to choose where you want to sit. Rearrange the room, if necessary to have a proper hearing setting to create one large conference able in the middle, as most administrative law judges seem to prefer this.

7. Investigation reports are inadmissible as hearsay. You must object to them if the DOH attorney attempts to introduce one.

8. Also, settlement negotiations (including the transcript or minutes of Board meeting at which a settlement stipulation was considered, and any statements made by the respondent or anyone else in support of it are inadmissible, per Rule 90.408 (civil) and Rule 90.410
(criminal) of the Rules of Evidence.

9. Affidavits are considered hearsay evidence, but since this is an administrative hearing the ALJ may allow one or more into evidence, if it is being used to corroborate previously admitted evidence.

10. If you want to introduce an affidavit at hearing and you have the witness who made the affidavit available, have the witness present, have the witness take the stand and testify from the affidavit.

11. Bring a copy of the most recent DOAH court docket for case, to be able to prove that a document was or was not filed.

Although not directly applicable to a formal administrative hearing involving a nursing license case, the following checklist which we use for formal hearings involving Medicaid benefits, may also be useful to you.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses Administrative Hearings.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses in administrative hearings, depositions, Department of Health investigations, before the Board of Nursing, and in appearances before the Board of Nursing in licensing matters.

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.

Appealing Final Orders and Emergency Suspension Orders (ESOs) from the Florida Board of Nursing

indest1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The professional boards for licensed health professionals in Florida, such as the Board of Nursing, are all under the Florida Department of Health (DOH).  Each board is responsible for disciplinary actions and other matters regulating the professions under its authority.  The investigators and attorneys assigned for Board of Nursing matters all work for or are assigned to the DOH.  The Florida DOH is headed up by the Florida Surgeon General.  I think of the DOH as the umbrella agency over the professional boards or as a parent corporation which owns many subsidiary corporations.

Administrative Procedures Governing Investigations and Disciplinary Actions.

All agency actions, especially disciplinary actions and investigations, are governed by the Florida Administrative Procedure Act (APA), Chapter 120, Florida Statutes.  The Florida APA is modeled after the Federal Administrative Procedure Act.  However, in addition to the Florida APA, DOH investigations and hearings may also be governed by several different provisions of Chapter 456, Florida Statutes, a set of laws which govern all licensed health professionals.

For example, Section 456.073, Florida Statutes, gives certain procedural steps that must be followed in investigations and probable cause hearings involving complaints against nurses and other health professionals.  Section 456.073(13), Florida Statutes, is a new section added several years ago that provides a six (6) year “statute of limitations” for many disciplinary matters;  but there are many exceptions to this.

Section 456.074, Florida Statutes, gives the Surgeon General the authority to issue emergency suspension orders (or ESOs) in certain cases.  Section 456.076, Florida Statutes, authorizes the establishment of treatment programs for impaired health professionals and offers some alternatives to disciplinary action.  To date, the only recognized programs are the Intervention Project for Nurses (IPN) (which covers all nursing professionals) and the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) (which covers almost all other health professionals).  Section 456.077, Florida Statutes, authorizes nondisciplinary citations for certain offenses.  Section 456.078, Florida Statutes, authorizes mediation for certain offenses.

Mistaken Advice Regarding Appeals.

We are often consulted by nurses after they have an emergency suspension orders (or ESOs) entered against them or after they have a Final Order for disciplinary action entered against them.  We often hear that they consulted an attorney who advised them at an earlier stage of the proceedings, after they received a letter from a DOH investigator advising that they were being investigated, to not worry about putting together or presenting any defense at that stage.  We often hear that they consulted an attorney who advised them not to dispute the charges at a formal administrative hearing or not to request a formal administrative hearing.  We are told that they have been mistakenly advised that they should just wait and file an appeal because they are more likely to win on appeal.

This is, of course, incorrect advice.  If you compare these proceedings to criminal investigations, would any competent attorney advise you to not worry about preparing for a trial or contesting the charges at a trial?  Would any competent attorney advise you to just wait until you are convicted, because you could then file an appeal?  No, of course not.  This is because appeals are based on legal defects in the proceedings and do not involve any presentation of new facts that are not already in the record.  Additionally, very few cases are reversed on appeal, whether criminal, civil or administrative in nature.  So why give up your best shots at winning a case:  presenting a good case of factual information and documents at the investigation level or disputing the charges at a formal hearing?

Don’t Try to Be Your Own Attorney on an Appellate Matter.

There are, of course, many valid legal grounds for appeals of ESOs and Final Orders.  However, you have to understand the law and the procedural rules that govern such matters in order to be able to identify them and argue them on appeal.  In addition, appellate law is a legal specialty of its own.  If you are not familiar with researching case law and writing legal briefs, you should not be attempting to appeal your own case.  Would you attempt to perform brain surgery on yourself?  If so, you should get your head examined.  The courts of appeal are far more exacting in their requirements than trial courts are.  See The Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure.  However, most Florida courts of appeal also have their own local rules which may apply to appeals.

Grounds for appeal of an ESO include that less restrictive means of protecting the public were available or that the conduct alleged does not meet the legal requirement for imposing such a suspension.  Grounds for appeal of a Final Order include that the punishment it gives exceeds the disciplinary guidelines that each board has and that proper procedures were not followed which deprived the respondent of his or her right to a fair hearing.  There are many other grounds which one who practices regularly before the Board will be able to identify and raise in an appeal.

In many cases, it would be completely useless to appeal an ESO.  You would just waste time and money by doing so, with little or no chance to win or have it reversed.  You might be far better off requesting an expedited formal hearing, to which you are entitled in an emergency suspension case, and get your case heard as soon as possible.  You need the advice and guidance of an experienced attorney to help you figure out what the best course of action is in your case.

Where to Appeal May Be an Issue.

The notice of appeal must be filed with the clerk of the DOH.  However, a copy must also be filed with the appropriate appellate court having jurisdiction.  The First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee will have jurisdiction in almost all DOH and Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) appeals.  However, the District Court of Appeal which has jurisdiction over the county in which the respondent health professional resides will also have jurisdiction.  If the appellate case law of one of these is more favorable than the other, from a strategic viewpoint, it may be better to file in the one with the more favorable case law.

Alternative Actions to an Appeal May be Appropriate.

Furthermore, there may be more effective and less expensive methods of obtaining relief from an ESO or Final Order than an appeal.  If you are subject to an ESO, you have the right to an expedited hearing.  Sometimes this will result in quicker relief than appealing it.  If you are subject to a Final Order that has been issued in error or there was some mistake in the proceedings that led up to it, the Board may be inclined to reconsider the matter and amend it.  This would require you to file a motion for reconsideration with the Board itself.

Always Carry Professional Liability Insurance that Includes Licensure Defense Coverage.

We continue to recommend that all nursing personnel, especially those who work in hospitals, nursing homes or for agencies, carry your own professional liability insurance.  If you do purchase insurance, make sure it has professional license defense coverage that will pay for your legal defense in the event a complaint is filed against your nursing license.  Usually coverage of up to $25,000 comes with most good nursing liability policies.  There are many companies that sell such insurance for as little as $100 per year.  However, if you can get additional coverage, $50,000 is more likely to cover any foreseeable investigations, hearings and appeals.  Even higher limits can be purchased for a few dollars more from many insurance companies.

Seek Legal Advice and Prepare Your Defenses Early.

Always seek legal advice as soon as you suspect there may be a complaint of any kind or an investigation of any kind.  Don’t hide your head in the sand and think that the investigation could not possibly be about you.  Talk to an attorney before you talk to anyone else.  A good attorney will help to save you from making mistakes that could compromise a good legal defense.

Call the attorneys of The Health Law Firm to set up a consultation on any of the above issues. To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

Did you find this blog helpful? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Will Florida Senate Be Pressured into Expanding the Authority of Nurses?

indest1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On April 28, 2014, the Connecticut House of Representatives approved a bill giving nurse practitioners greater autonomy to diagnose and treat patients without doctors’ oversight. Connecticut is one out of 17 states and the District of Columbia to allow nurse practitioners to work independently of physicians. Similar measures are pending in several other states, including Florida.

The Florida House of Representatives passed the bill (CS/CS/HB 7113) on April 25, 2014, that expands the range of practice for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). The bill is expected to be heard in the Florida Senate soon. If passed, this policy shift would likely lead to profound changes in the way health care is practiced in Florida.

Details of the Florida Bill.

Currently, in Florida, nurse practitioners must work under the supervision of physicians. This bill would change the title of what are usually called nurse practitioners or advanced registered nurse practitioners. These are registered nurses who have post-college education, usually a master’s degree. The proposed change would retitle these health professionals to advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

These nurses would gain new authority under the bill, such as the ability to sign documents that now require a physician’s signature, and the opportunity to earn the title “Independent Advance Practice Registered Nurse” after a certain amount of training and experience. Nurse practitioners would no longer have to contract with and pay a “supervising” physician. Another somewhat controversial aspect of the bill is to allow these nurses to gain the authority to prescribe controlled substances.

Increasing Pressure to Pass Similar Bill.

The present Florida bill is being supported as a means to fulfill the anticipated growing need for medical services expected with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Especially in certain segments of the medical population, APRNs are already providing a large amount of this care, and the bill acknowledges and grants the authority for this.

With so many states, especially up in the northeast, agreeing to expand the scope of practice to qualified nurse practitioners, we wonder if this will have an effect on the Senate vote in Florida. Snow birds coming to Florida will be comfortable being treated by nurse practitioners and will expect the same level of care when they come down to the Sunshine State.

Opposition May Kill the Bill.

The opposition to this effort is strong and vocal, with the various state medical associations leading the way. For these groups, the issue is one of preservation of the practice of medicine as the domain of the physician. They are accepting of medical practice by physician “extenders,” but not by “providers” who are not physicians. The members of these opposition groups are a formidable force, respected in their communities and able to make significant political contributions. These are not groups that many legislators would want to rankle.

However, a review of the history of medicine in the United States shows that this is a battle the medical doctors are likely to lose. Similar arguments have been made in the past when other types of health care practitioners have sought legal authority to practice their professions. Immediately coming to mind are osteopathic physicians (D.O.s), chiropractic physicians (D.C.s) and midwives (CMs) to name a few. Some have had to bring antitrust lawsuits to obtain relief.

Be sure to check this blog regularly for updates to this story.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent registered nurses, nurse practitioners, advanced practice registered nurses, certified registered nurse anesthetists, midwives and licensed practical nurses in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, in appearances before the Board of Nursing in licensing matters and in many other legal matters. We represent nurses across the U.S., and throughout Florida.

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

Comments?

What are your thoughts on the bill? Do you think nurse practitioners should have more autonomy? Or do you believe nurse practitioners should be supervised by physicians? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Altimari, Daniela. “State Moves to Give Nurses Independence From Doctors.” The Courant. (April 28, 2014). From: http://www.courant.com/health/connecticut/hc-aprn-bill-20140428,0,7595375.story

Catala, Paul. “Bill Giving Nurses More Authority Passes House.” Highlands Today. (April 28, 2014). From: http://highlandstoday.com/hi/local-news/bill-giving-nurses-more-authority-passes-house-20140429/

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

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Florida Bill to Expand Authority of Nurses Flatlines During 2014 Legislative Session

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

The 2014 Legislative Session ended May 2, 2014, with the death of an omnibus health bill. House Bill 7113 would have provided provisions to expand the power of nurse practitioners to work independently of physicians’ oversight. This extension of authority to nurses would no longer require them to contract with and pay a “supervising” physician. The bill died after being passed back and forth between the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate numerous times. It could not be resuscitated or kept alive by artificial means.

Currently, Florida nurse practitioners must work under direct supervision of physicians. The bill would have changed the title of nurse practitioners or advanced registered nurse practitioners. These are registered nurses with post-college education, usually a Master’s degree. The denied change would have retitled these health professionals to advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). The bill would have also provided nurses the authority to sign documents that currently require a physician’s signature. This would have included the ability to prescribe controlled substances.

There is a total of 17 states in the United States that have adopted similar bills allowing nurse practitioners to work independently of physicians as APRNs.

To read the entire article from Modern Healthcare, click here.

Conflicting Opinions of the Bill.

Proponents of expanding nurse practitioner autonomy argue that the bill would reduce health care costs in addition to solving a critical shortage of primary care physicians. Because of the high enrollment numbers associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is anticipated that the need for physicians and health care providers will dramatically increase. Supporters also argue that northerners will be accustom to treatment by nurse practitioners because states such as Connecticut and New York have passed similar bills. They will expect the same level of care when moving to Florida during the winter months.

Opponents of the bill, led by various medical associations, argue the dangers of allocating such power to nurses. They warn that nurses should not have access to prescribing controlled substances without a doctor’s supervision. This argument is defended by highlighting Florida’s constant struggles with high numbers of pill mill busts. The medical associations opposing the bill are passionate in preserving the practice of medicine for the physician. In the end, opponents were granted their wish.

To read more on House Bill 7113, click here for a previous blog.

Even though the bill did not pass this legislative session, we expect this will not be the end of the fight to allow nurse practitioners to work independently of physicians.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent registered nurses, nurse practitioners, advanced practice registered nurses, certified registered nurse anesthetists, midwives and licensed practical nurses in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, in appearances before the Board of Nursing in licensing matters and in many other legal matters. We represent nurses across the U.S., and throughout Florida.

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

Comments?

Is providing a trained nurse practitioner with greater authority to treat and prescribe really a controversial subject? How do you stand on the topic? What benefits or dangers could arise from providing nurses with greater independence? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

“Health Bill Dies in Florida Legislature.” Modern Healthcare. (May 3, 2014). From: http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20140503/INFO/305039930

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

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Preparing for an Informal Hearing Before the Board of Nursing

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

If you are scheduled to appear for an informal hearing before the Florida Board of Nursing, there are a number of facts that you will want to know in order to be properly prepared.  This article will cover many of them.

Limited Circumstances for Informal Administrative Hearing

First, you should understand that you will only be at an informal hearing in which you appear before the Board of Nursing itself for a very limited number of reasons.  These will include the following:

  1. If you completed an election of rights (EOR) form and agreed that you did not intend to dispute any material facts alleged against you from the administrative complaint (AC) in the case.
  2. If you entered into a settlement agreement (or “stipulation”) (similar to a plea bargain in a criminal case) in which you agreed to accept discipline against your license.
  3. You failed to submit any election of rights (EOR) form and failed to file a petition for a formal hearing in a timely manner, and, therefore, you have waived your right to a formal hearing.

There are a few other circumstances in which there may be an informal hearing before the Board, such as motions to modify a final order, motion to lift a suspension of a license, appearance in accordance with an earlier order, petition for a declaratory statement, or other administrative matters.  This article only discusses those directly relating to disciplinary action as indicated above.

What an Informal Administrative Hearing Is Not

  1. An informal administrative hearing is notan opportunity for you to tell your side of the story.  You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.
  2. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to prove that you are innocent of the charges.  You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.
  3. An informal administrative hearing is notan opportunity for you to introduce documents or evidence to show that someone else committed the offenses charged and you did not.  You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.
  4. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to argue that you should not be in the board’s impaired practitioners program (either the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) or the intervention Project for Nurses (IPN)) because you have completed a different program or that you do not have a problem.  These are the only programs recognized and used and you have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

Formal Administrative Hearing vs. Informal Hearing

If you desire to contest the facts alleged against you then you must state this in writing.  If the material facts in a case are challenged by you, then the Board or the Department of Health (DOH) (note:  all professional boards are under the Department of Health in Florida) must forward your case to the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) where a neutral, objective administrative law judge (ALJ) will be appointed to hold a formal hearing in your case.  This is the only way that exists for you to prove that the facts alleged against you are incorrect or that you are not guilty of the charges made against you.  In fact, you do not even have to do anything in such a case.  The Department of Health has the burden of proof and it has to prove the charges against you and the material facts alleged against you by clear and convincing evidence.  Often, it is unable to do this at a formal administrative hearing.

However, because of the technicalities of evidentiary law and administrative law, we do not recommend that a nonlawyer attempt to represent himself or herself at such hearings.  You can make technical mistakes (such as answering requests for admissions incorrectly) that severely compromise any defense you may have.  We recommend that you always retain the services of an experienced health lawyer in any such matter.

What to Do If You Find That You Are at an Informal Hearing and That You Do Desire to Contest the Material Facts of the Case (And Your Guilt or Innocence)

If you have been scheduled for an informal administrative hearing and you decide that you do desire to challenge the material facts alleged against you in the administrative complaint (AC), file a written objection to proceeding at the informal hearing.  State that you have discovered that there are material facts that you do desire to challenge and that you desire that the proceedings be converted to a formal hearing.  File this with the Clerk of the administrative agency you are before (usually the department of health or the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and also send a copy to the opposing attorney and the executive director of the Board.  Do this as early as possible and keep proof that you have actually and filed the written request.

If you are already at the informal hearing when you discover this, object to the proceedings on the record and ask to have the informal hearing be converted to a formal hearing where you may contest the material facts.  State this as many times as reasonably possible.

Preparing for an Informal Hearing

Since you are not contesting the facts alleged against you, if you are going to an informal hearing be sure you do the following:

  1. Be sure you know where the hearing is going to be held.  Try to stay the night before in the same hotel as the hearing will be held.  You will usually have to make these reservations early in order to get a room.
  2. Attend a Board meeting that occurs before the one at which your case is scheduled.  This will give you a feeling for the procedures that will be followed, will help to make you less nervous when you appear, and you can obtain continuing education units for doing so (be sure to sign in and sign out).  Be sure to attend one of the days when the disciplinary hearings are held.
  3. Dress professionally for the appearance.  This may be the most important event in your professional career.  For men, this means a suit and tie or, at least, a dark coat, dark slacks and a necktie.  For women, a professional business suit or the equivalent is in order.  Do not dress as if you are going to the park, the beach or out on a date.  Do not wear sexually provocative or revealing clothing.
  4. Check the agenda that is published on line a day or two before the scheduled hearing to make sure that your case is still scheduled for the date and time on the hearing notice.  Informal hearings may be moved around on the schedule.  Make sure you are there at the earliest time on the hearing notice or agenda.
  5. Listen to questions asked of you by Board members and attempt to answer them directly and succinctly.  You will be placed under oath for the proceeding and there will be a court reporter present as well as audio recording devices to take everything down.
  6. Do not argue with the Board members or lose your temper.  This is not the time or place to let this happen.  If you have such tendencies, then you should have an attorney there with you who can intercept some of the questions and can make defensive arguments (to the extent that they may be permitted) for you.
  7. You may introduce documents and evidence in mitigation.  However, you have agreed that the material facts alleged are true, so you may not contest these.  In effect, you have plead guilty and you are just arguing about how much punishment (discipline) and what kind of punishment you should receive.
  8. If you do intend to introduce documents and evidence in mitigation, be sure you know what the mitigating factors are (these are published in a separate board rule in the Florida Administrative Code for each professional board).  These may include, for example, the fact that there was no patient harm, that there was no monetary loss, that restitution has been made, the length of time the professional has been practicing, the absence of any prior discipline, etc.  You should submit these far ahead of time with a notice of filing, so that they are sent out to the board members with the other materials in your file.  This is another reason to have experienced counsel represent you at the informal hearing.
  9. Be prepared to take responsibility for your actions.  If you are not prepared to take responsibility, then this means you must believe you are innocent and you should be at a formal hearing, not an informal one.
  10. Be prepared to explain what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what remedial measures you have taken to prevent a recurrence of this type of event in the future.  Show that you have learned from this experience and that you are not going to make the same mistake again.
  11. It is our advice to always retain the services of an experienced attorney to represent you at such hearings.  Often your professional liability insurance will cover this.  If you have professional liability insurance, be sure that it contains a rider or addendum that provides coverage for professional license defense matters and administrative hearings.  You need at least $25,000 to $50,000 in coverage for this type of defense.  If necessary, you should contact your insurer or insurance agent and have the limits increased for a small additional premium

Other Little Known Facts to Remember

Professional licensing matters are considered to be “penal” or “quasi-criminal” in nature.  Therefore, you have your Fifth Amendment rights in relation to being required to give evidence against yourself.  You cannot be compelled to do this in such matters.  However, since it is an administrative proceeding and not a criminal proceeding, there is no requirement that the licensee be advised of this by a DOH investigator or attorney.

If you enter into a settlement agreement and attend the informal hearing to approve it, nothing you say or testify to at this hearing can later be used against you.  This is because you are involved in an attempt to negotiate and settle (or compromise) the claims being made against you.  It is a general rule of law that nothing the parties say in such settlement proceedings can later be used as evidence if the settlement agreement is not approved.  The law tries to promote settlements among parties to any dispute in this way.

It is true that on occasion the Board will examine a case on an informal hearing and will decide to dismiss it.  This is rare, but it does happen.  Sometimes, it will be a tactical decision on the part of you and your attorney to elect to go to an informal hearing with the hope that the Board may examine the case and decide to dismiss it.  However, you cannot count on this happening.

Don’t Wait Too Late;  Consult with an Experienced Health Law Attorney Early

Do not wait until action has been taken against you to consult with an experienced attorney in these matters.  Few cases are won on appeal.  It is much easier to win your case when there is proper time to prepare and you have requested a formal hearing so that you may actually dispute the facts being alleged against you.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing nurses, nurse practitioners, and CRNAs in investigations and at Board of Nursing hearings.  Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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

Advice for Nurses Regarding Department of Health Investigations

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

We see and hear about a lot of incorrect legal advice being given to nurses regarding what they should do if they are being investigated.

The incorrect advice being given even includes mailings they may have received containing a brochure “What Every Nurse Needs to Know” published by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. It gives advice in response to the question: “What should you do if you are the subject of a complaint?” It advises the nurse to contact the Board of Nursing (BON) immediately in such an event and states that the complaint will be handled in a “fair and appropriate matter.” It advises that a BON representative will describe the investigation process and answer any questions that you may have about an investigation if a complaint is filed against you.

This does not appear to be sound advice and we would warn nurses against following it. Such advice may cause great damage to any defenses you may have, even if you are totally innocent.  If you don’t believe me, then contact a nurse who has been investigated and has received discipline and ask him or her what he or she thinks about this.  Alternatively, attend a Board of Nursing meeting and observe first hand the disciplinary cases that come before it (you can even get free continuing education credits for doing this) and talk to some of the nurses there.

You Have a Constitutional Right in Florida to Refuse to Make a Statement

Most states, Florida included, do not require you to make any statement to an investigator (or attorney) working on a Board of Nursing complaint.  We recommend that you not do so.

Under Florida law, your constitutional right to not make any statement that might help to incriminate you applies to such proceedings. Nurses are often falsely accused of misconduct or wrongdoing by patients, families of patients, employers and rivals. Most states do have adequate procedural safeguards in place that, if used by the nurse, will help to ensure the correct outcome of the matter. However, you must first know what these rights and safeguards are, and then know how to use them to your advantage in such proceedings. Very few attorneys are experienced in such matters and even fewer nurses are.

Investigations That May Affect Your Professional License Are Considered to Be “Penal” or “Quasi-criminal” Investigations

You should think of the investigation in the same light as a criminal investigation against you if you were wrongfully accused of a crime. In the case of a BON complaint, you can lose your license, lose your career, and be assessed monetary fines in the thousands of dollars. Why would you want to contact the investigator in such a matter and make statements that can later be used against you, if you don’t have to?

In most states, Florida included, the burden of proof is on the state to prove every element of the case against you. However, if you make any statements to the investigator (or the attorney for the Board), oral or written, this can be used against you. Even the simplest, most innocuous statements can cause you tremendous difficulty, because anything you say is something the state is no longer required to prove in an investigation or a hearing.

Even the Simplest Statement You Make Can Be Used Against You

For example, the state may not have an admissible document or a witness who is available at the time who can state that you actually saw or treated the patient. Without being able to prove this, the state may not be able to prove any charge against you.

Yet if you make a simple statement that you did treat the patient, the state no longer has to introduce any other proof of this. You have helped the state to prove its case against you without even meaning to do so. You have now made the case against you quicker, easier and less expensive for the state to prove; you may have made the case against you possible to prove when otherwise the state would not have been able to prove it at all.

Board of Nursing Does Not Usually Give Legal Advice to Nurses

It has also been our experience that BON representatives and staff do not have the time or resources to answer every question you may have. Furthermore, BON representatives are not able to give you legal advice on what to do. Even if you do speak with an attorney representing the BON, that attorney is not allowed by law to give you legal advice. Remember, the attorney representing the BON works for the state and is similar to a prosecutor. If you were charged with a criminal offense, would you call up the attorney prosecuting you and ask for her or his legal advice on what to do?

Nursing Liability Insurance May Cover Your Legal Defense of a Complaint Against Your License; Call Your Insurer Right Away

If you have nursing malpractice insurance, your professional liability insurance will most probably pay for your legal defense of a complaint filed against you, for a subpoena sent to you or for any deposition you must give. The need for defense of a complaint filed against you with the state licensing agency occurs many times more frequently than the need to defend a nursing malpractice claim or suit. This is the main reason we recommend that every nurse purchase nursing malpractice insurance. It is very inexpensive and usually provides excellent coverage.

However, always check to make sure that it will cover your legal expenses in a nursing complaint whether or not it results in a potential malpractice claim. If possible, purchase a rider to raise the limits of such legal defense payments for licensure defense to at least $50,000. If this is not available from this insurer, purchase a second policy.

Most nursing professional liability insurance allows the nurse to select the attorney of his or her choice to defend her or him. This is a very desirable feature to have in a professional liability insurance policy. Otherwise, the insurance company will reserve the right to pick your attorney, whether or not you agree with the choice.

Your Employer Ain’t Gonna Cover You

Many nurses make a terrible mistake thinking “I work for a hospital;  the hospital insures me.” Or “I work for a nursing home, the nursing home insures me.” This is not correct when it comes to complaints filed with the Board of Nursing or Department of Health. A hospital will have insurance (or will self-insure) to cover itself, not you. A nursing home will have insurance to cover itself, not you. If you have a complaint filed against you with the Board of Nursing, it is very rare that your employer will pay for your legal defense;  additionally this will almost never occur if you no longer work for that employer.

In many cases, and in most cases we have seen in the past, it has been the employer hospital or the employer nursing home that has filed the complaint with the against the nurse. You don’t think the employer is going to pay for your legal defense if it has filed the complaint against you, do you? In addition, the employer who has filed the complaint, in the vast majority of cases, also fires the nurse. So you may be out of a job as well as not be able to pay for a legal defense of your license.

If your employer obtains an attorney to represent you in a matter, ask the attorney: “Do you work for me or the employer?” Also ask: “If there is a conflict between my defense and the employer’s defense, will you continue to represent me or will you represent the employer?” Ask these questions in writing and get the answer in writing.

Failing to purchase professional liability insurance to protect your license is not very smart given how inexpensive it is. You have worked many years to obtain your professional license. You and your family have spent a great deal of money for your education to achieve it. If you can’t afford a legal defense, you may be forced into accepting a settlement agreement (also referred to sometimes as a “stipulation” or a “plea bargain”) for some type of disciplinary action. Even if you only receive some small disciplinary action, this will be shown on your license forever. It will be reported to national reporting agencies and will prevent many employers, especially the good employers from hiring you. It may even bar you from working in some circumstances. If you have a professional license in another state, it will be reported to the other states and similar disciplinary investigations will be started against you in these other states.

Consult with an Experienced Attorney, Regardless

Even if you don’t have insurance that covers your legal defense in an investigation that has been opened against you, please locate and consult with an experienced health lawyer who routinely defends nurses in nursing board cases. Additionally, don’t believe or rely on all of the rumors, gossip and “legal advice” that your colleagues who are not lawyers (or even your lawyers friends who are not experienced health lawyers) will give you. The fee for the legal consultation is worth the price. Make your decisions from a position of experienced knowledge, not one of ignorance or false assumptions.

We recommend that if you receive any notice or indication that anyone has filed a complaint against you with the BON or any other licensing agency that you do not contact the BON, its investigators, or any of its representatives.  We recommend that you immediately contact an attorney who specializes in defending nurses before the BON.

Locating an Experienced Attorney

If you are unable to locate an attorney experienced in handling nursing cases, contact The Health Law Firm, The American Association of Nurse Attorneys (TAANA), the American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA), or your state bar association, by telephone or by visiting their website. Ask for a referral to such an attorney. Be sure to ask the attorney how many similar cases has she or he actually handled before the Board of Nursing.

This Advice Applies to Other Health Professionals as Well

The foregoing information applies to doctors, dentists, pharmacists, advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse practitioners (CRNAs), midwives, physician assistants, massage therapists, psychologists, mental health counselors, social workers, and all other licensed health professionals;  not just to nurses.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent nurses, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse practitioners (CRNAs), midwives, physician assistants, massage therapists, psychologists, mental health counselors, social workers, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, medical students, residents, interns and all other licensed health professionals, in Florida and also in states other than Florida.  In many states we are permitted to represent the health professional in investigations and administrative proceedings.

The Bottom Line:  Don’t Talk to Investigators

The bottom line is:  Don’t talk to an investigator until your attorney has checked him or her out and advises you it is okay to do so.  This will rarely happen.

Disclaimer: Please note that this article represents our opinions based on our many years of practice and experience in this area of health law. You may have a different opinion; you are welcome to it. This one is mine.

Note: This article is for informational purposes only; it is not legal advice.

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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