Florida Judge Won’t Toss Lawsuit Filed By Family of Publix Employee Who Died of Coronavirus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To view the family’s complaint, click here.

Publix Defends Itself.

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

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

Click here to read the statement in full.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

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

Doctors & 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 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.

OSHA Fines Several Health Care Systems Over COVID-19 PPE Violations

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

On September 14, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a citation against a healthcare system in Louisiana. Christus Shreveport-Bossier Health System is facing fines for failing to safeguard its employees with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic. OSHA has proposed $13,494 in penalties, the maximum allowed by law.

OSHA’s Coronavirus-related Investigation.

After receiving reports of employee exposure, OSHA opened a coronavirus–related investigation. The agency found that the health system violated workplace safety protocols and put employees at risk of COVID-19 exposure.

In a press release, OSHA stated, “emergency facility employees often shared used protective gowns or did not have protective gowns to wear while treating patients.” Click here to read the press release in full.

Christus Health had 15 business days from receipt of the citation and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings. In a statement, Katy Kiser, a spokesperson for Christus Health, said, “We are actively contesting the citation and the penalty. We have worked hard to secure the PPE we have needed to get us through many phases of the pandemic and maintain a local contingency supply of at least ten days. To date, we have experienced no gaps in PPE supply during pandemic response.”

A Series of COVID-19 Citations for Different Health Systems.

After receiving criticism that it was not adequately investigating COVID-19 complaints, OSHA announced it would ramp up enforcement. As a result, the agency said it would also issue fines against New Jersey-based Bergen New Bridge Medical Center and Hackensack Meridian Health. The two healthcare systems were cited for failing to provide appropriately fit respirator masks to its home healthcare employees. Additionally, after providing respirators, they didn’t provide adequate training and compliant medical evaluations.

Click here for more on this story.

To read OSHA’s Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease memo that was released in May 2020, click here.  For additional resources, visit OSHA’s COVID-19 response page on their website here.

Click here to read one of our recent blogs on this topic and learn more.

Health Providers Can and Should File Complaints with OSHA.

What these cases show is that health professionals whose employers fail to provide proper safety equipment, PPE, and other job-related protections, can file OSHA complaints. OSHA’s main purpose for existing is to protect employees from unsafe working environments. Although the fines OSHA assesses may be small, if the employer is fined, this may provide the basis for a workers compensation claim, a lawsuit, a union complaint, or all of three of these.

Furthermore, if the employer retaliates against the employee for filing an OSHA complaint, then the employee has a valid cause of action against the employer, regardless of any other rights, under OSHA’s “whistleblower protection” provisions.

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

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

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

Sources:

Campbell, Braden. “OSHA Ramps Up Physical Inspections, COVID Case Reporting.” Law360. (May 19, 2020). Web.

Kutner, Max. “OSHA Fines La. Health System Over COVID-19 Violations.” (September 14, 2020). Web.

Shinkman, Ron. “OSHA fines 3 hospital systems for PPE violations.” Healthcare Dive. (September 15, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

 

OSHA Issues Series of Citations for COVID-19-Related PPE Violations

By Carole C. Schriefer, J.D.

On September 14, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a citation against a healthcare system in Louisiana. Christus Shreveport-Bossier Health System is facing fines for failing to safeguard its employees with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic. OSHA has proposed $13,494 in penalties, the maximum allowed by law.

OSHA’s Investigation for COVID-19 Exposure Risk.

After receiving reports of employee exposure, OSHA opened a coronavirus–related investigation. The agency found that the health system violated workplace safety protocols and put employees at risk of COVID-19 exposure.

In a press release, OSHA stated, “emergency facility employees often shared used protective gowns or did not have protective gowns to wear while treating patients.” Click here to read the press release in full.

Christus Health had 15 business days from receipt of the citation and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings. In a statement, Katy Kiser, a spokesperson for Christus Health, said, “We are actively contesting the citation and the penalty. We have worked hard to secure the PPE we have needed to get us through many phases of the pandemic and maintain a local contingency supply of at least ten days. To date, we have experienced no gaps in PPE supply during pandemic response.”

COVID-19 Citations for Several Different Health Systems.

After receiving criticism that it was not adequately investigating COVID-19 complaints, OSHA announced it would ramp up enforcement. As a result, the agency said it would also issue fines against New Jersey-based Bergen New Bridge Medical Center and Hackensack Meridian Health. The two healthcare systems were cited for failing to provide appropriately fit respirator masks to its home healthcare employees. Additionally, after providing respirators, they didn’t provide adequate training and compliant medical evaluations.

Click here for more on this story.

To read OSHA’s Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease memo that was released in May, 2020, click here.  For additional resources, visit OSHA’s COVID-19 response page on their website here.

Click here to read one of our recent blogs on this topic and learn more.

Health Care Providers Can and Should File Complaints with OSHA for Workplace Violations.

What these cases show is that health professionals whose employers fail to provide proper safety equipment, PPE, and other job-related protections, can file OSHA complaints. OSHA’s main purpose for existing is to protect employees from unsafe working environments. Although the fines OSHA assesses may be small, if the employer is fined, this may provide the basis for a workers compensation claim, a law suit, a union complaint or all of three of these.

Furthermore, if the employer retaliates against the employee for filing an OSHA complaint, then the employee has a valid cause of action against the employer, regardless of any other rights, under OSHA’s “whistle blower protection” provisions.

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

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

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

Sources:

Campbell, Braden. “OSHA Ramps Up Physical Inspections, COVID Case Reporting.” Law360. (May 19, 2020). Web.

Kutner, Max. “OSHA Fines La. Health System Over COVID-19 Violations.” (September 14, 2020). Web.

Shinkman, Ron. “OSHA fines 3 hospital systems for PPE violations.” Healthcare Dive. (September 15, 2020). Web.

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

KeyWords: Health law defense lawyer, legal representation of health care professionals, reviews of The Health Law Firm, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews, Department of Health defense attorney, healthcare employment law representation, legal representation for physicians, nurse defense lawyer, nursing complaint defense attorneys, board of nursing defense attorney, nurse defense legal representation, legal representation for healthcare professionals, complex health care litigation attorney, complex civil litigation attorney, complex healthcare litigation lawyer, complex medical litigation lawyer, representation for complex medical litigation, representation for healthcare business litigation matters, representation for administrative hearing, representation for Department of Health (DOH) representation, DORA defense attorney, DOH defense attorney, representation for DOH hearings, representation for DOH investigations, representation for disciplinary charges, representation for disciplinary complaint

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

 

OSHA Issues Citations to Health Care Systems Over COVID-19 PPE Violations

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

On September 14, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a citation against a healthcare system in Louisiana. Christus Shreveport-Bossier Health System is facing fines for failing to safeguard its employees with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic. OSHA has proposed $13,494 in penalties, the maximum allowed by law.

OSHA’s Coronavirus-related Investigation.

After receiving reports of employee exposure, OSHA opened a coronavirus–related investigation. The agency found that the health system violated workplace safety protocols and put employees at risk of COVID-19 exposure.

In a press release, OSHA stated, “emergency facility employees often shared used protective gowns or did not have protective gowns to wear while treating patients.” Click here to read the press release in full.

Christus Health had 15 business days from receipt of the citation and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings. In a statement, Katy Kiser, a spokesperson for Christus Health, said, “We are actively contesting the citation and the penalty. We have worked hard to secure the PPE we have needed to get us through many phases of the pandemic and maintain a local contingency supply of at least ten days. To date, we have experienced no gaps in PPE supply during pandemic response.”

A Series of COVID-19 Citations for Different Health Systems.

After receiving criticism that it was not adequately investigating COVID-19 complaints, OSHA announced it would ramp up enforcement. As a result, the agency said it would also issue fines against New Jersey-based Bergen New Bridge Medical Center and Hackensack Meridian Health. The two healthcare systems were cited for failing to provide appropriately fit respirator masks to its home healthcare employees. Additionally, after providing respirators, they didn’t provide adequate training and compliant medical evaluations.

Click here for more on this story.

To read OSHA’s Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease memo that was released in May 2020, click here.  For additional resources, visit OSHA’s COVID-19 response page on their website here.

Click here to read one of our recent blogs on this topic and learn more.

Health Providers Can and Should File Complaints with OSHA.

What these cases show is that health professionals whose employers fail to provide proper safety equipment, PPE, and other job-related protections, can file OSHA complaints. OSHA’s main purpose for existing is to protect employees from unsafe working environments. Although the fines OSHA assesses may be small, if the employer is fined, this may provide the basis for a workers compensation claim, a lawsuit, a union complaint, or all of three of these.

Furthermore, if the employer retaliates against the employee for filing an OSHA complaint, then the employee has a valid cause of action against the employer, regardless of any other rights, under OSHA’s “whistleblower protection” provisions.

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

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

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

Sources:

Campbell, Braden. “OSHA Ramps Up Physical Inspections, COVID Case Reporting.” Law360. (May 19, 2020). Web.

Kutner, Max. “OSHA Fines La. Health System Over COVID-19 Violations.” (September 14, 2020). Web.

Shinkman, Ron. “OSHA fines 3 hospital systems for PPE violations.” Healthcare Dive. (September 15, 2020). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave. Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.

KeyWords: nurse defense lawyer, nursing complaint defense attorneys, board of nursing defense attorney, Health law defense lawyer, legal representation of health care professionals, reviews of The Health Law Firm, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews, Department of Health defense attorney, healthcare employment law representation, legal representation for physicians, nurse defense legal representation, legal representation for healthcare professionals, complex health care litigation attorney, complex civil litigation attorney, complex healthcare litigation lawyer, complex medical litigation lawyer, representation for complex medical litigation, representation for healthcare business litigation matters, representation for administrative hearing, representation for Department of Health (DOH) representation, DORA defense attorney, DOH defense attorney, representation for DOH hearings, representation for DOH investigations, representation for disciplinary charges, representation for disciplinary complaint

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

 

Review Your Department Of Health Practitioner Profile or it Could Cost You!

Headshot of The Health Law Firm's 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

In 1997, the Florida Legislature passed a statute that requires the Department of Health (DOH) to maintain online practitioner profiles for certain health care professionals. Practitioner profiles are required for medical doctors, osteopathic physicians (DOs), chiropractors (DCs), advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and podiatric physicians. The statute specified the required information to be maintained, how it was to be reported, and other requirements dealing with compiling and updating the information in the profiles.

To visit the DOH’s website and learn more about these profiles, click here.

What Information Does the Profile Include?

The profile contains required and optional information from the healthcare provider. Required
information includes:

1. education and training, including other health-related degrees, professional and postgraduate training specialty
2. current practice and mailing addresses
3. staff privileges and faculty appointments
4. reported financial responsibility
5. legal actions taken against the practitioner
6. board final disciplinary action taken against the practitioner
7. any liability claims filed against podiatric physicians which exceed $5,000
8. any liability claims filed against M.D.s and osteopathic physicians which exceed
$100,000

Optional information may include committees/memberships, professional or community
service awards, and publications the practitioner has authored.

These profiles are published on the DOH’s website. They are freely accessible by the public and are frequently used by employers, medical staff committees, and insurance panels to verify information provided by applicants.

Be Sure to Check Your Profile for Accuracy!

If you are a licensed profiled health care practitioner, you should review your profile information frequently and report any corrections to the DOH immediately! By law, you are responsible for updating your profile information within 15 days after a change of an occurrence in each section of the profile.

Unfortunately, information on practitioner profiles is not always 100 percent correct. Oftentimes, the information in a profile is outdated or misreported. The majority of the information in a profile is supposed to be entered through the website by the practitioner personally; however, the DOH is free to add information on its own.

It’s important to note that not all of the information on the practitioner profile is verified by the DOH. To view which information is self-reported, as well as reported by the DOH, click here to view the DOH’s profile guide.

Recently, The Health Law Firm had a client whose employment contract was not renewed due to misreported criminal history information on the DOH practitioner profile. Most troubling was the fact that this information appeared on the profile suddenly; it had not been on the practitioner profile in the past. Furthermore, the information was decades old and had been posted in direct violation of a court order sealing the underlying records.

We have also had cases where information was incorrect, where the same information was repeated several times, or where the information on the profile did not meet the basic requirements for reporting.

Fight False Information on Your Practitioner Profile.

The Health Law Firm has been successful in having the DOH remove criminal history information and other incorrect information from a practitioner profile.

It is imperative that you check your practitioner profile regularly to ensure that it is accurate with respect to the information that you provided and that may have been provided by the DOH. If you find that confidential or incorrect information has been posted to your profile, contact an attorney experienced with dealing with these matters immediately. You never know when your employer, a business associate or potential patient will look up your information on your profile.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with the Department of Health Matters and Investigations.

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment (DME) suppliers, medical students and interns, chiropractors, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider

Our attorneys provide legal representation in the Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, Federal Bureau of Investigation (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.

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.

Keywords: Department of Health investigation representation, DOH defense lawyer, DOH investigation, representation for DOH investigations, DOH investigation defense attorney, DOH representation, representation for board licensing complaint, board licensing complaint representation, board licensing complaint lawyer, board representation for healthcare professionals, licensure defense, licensure defense attorney, licensure defense representation, representation for administrative complaint, administrative licensure investigation representation, healthcare license representation, administrative hearing attorney, Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) representation, AHCA attorney, AHCA defense lawyer, nurse attorney, representation for nurses, nurse defense lawyer, healthcare attorney, representation for healthcare professionals, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, FBI agents, OIG special agents, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigators, representation for physicians, The Health Law Firm reviews, reviews for The Health Law Firm

“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 © 2019 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

You Could Face Steep Repercussions From License Discipline or Resignation After Notice of Investigation

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

Do you have a dental, medical, pharmacy or nursing license in several different states? Do you have a license in more than one health care profession? Have you been notified that an investigation has been opened against you? Are you thinking about resigning your professional license or voluntarily relinquishing such a license? Then you must be aware of the following information.

First, you should never voluntarily relinquish or resign your license after you know that an investigation has been opened or that disciplinary action has been taken against you. Such resignation is considered to be a “disciplinary relinquishment” and is treated the same as if your license had been revoked on disciplinary grounds.

Second, this will be reported out to other states, agencies, to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), to any certifying bodies for certifications you have and to other reporting agencies (such as the National Council of State Board of Nursing, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy or the American Board of Internal Medicine). Other states and other professional boards will most likely initiate disciplinary action based upon the first one.

Protect Your Professional License from These Adverse Actions.

The following is a list of some of the adverse actions that you can expect to be taken against you after discipline on your license or after you resign your professional license after receiving notice of investigation:

1. A mandatory report to the National Practitioner Data Base (NPDB) which remains there for 50 years. Note: The Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank or HIPDB recently merged into the NPDB.

2. Must be reported to and included in the Department of Health (DOH) profile that is available to the public online (for those having one), and remains for at least ten years.

3. Any other states or jurisdictions in which the nurse has a license will also initiate an investigation and possible disciplinary action against him or her in that jurisdiction. (Note: I have had two clients who had licenses in seven other states and all, even ones that were inactive or not renewed years ago, initiated action).

4. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will take action to exclude the provider from the Medicare Program. If this occurs (and most of these offenses require mandatory exclusion) the provider will be placed on the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) maintained by the HHS OIG.

a. If this happens, you are prohibited by law from working in any position in any capacity for any individual or business, including hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, physicians, medical groups, insurance companies, etc., that contract with or bill Medicare or Medicaid. This means, for example, you are prohibited from working as a janitor in a nursing home that accepts Medicare or Medicaid, even as an independent contractor.

b. If this happens, you are also automatically “debarred” or prohibited from participating in any capacity in any federal contracting, and you are placed on the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) debarment list. This means you are prohibited by law from working in any capacity for any government contractor or anyone who takes government funding. This applies, for example, to prevent you from being a real estate agent involved in selling property financed by a government-backed loan, prohibited from working for an electrical company that bids on contracts for government housing projects, working as a school teacher in a public school, etc.

c. If this happens, your state Medicaid Program is required to terminate you “for cause” from the state Medicaid Program. In many states, this is also grounds for revocation of your license.

5. Any profile or reporting system maintained by a national organization or federation (e.g., NURSYS profile maintained by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, American Medical Association physician profile, or the Federation of State Board of Physical Therapy profile) will include the adverse action in it, generally available to the public.

6. If you are a nurse practitioner or other professional with clinical privileges at a hospital, nursing home, HMO or clinic, action will be taken to revoke or suspend the clinical privileges and staff members if you have such. This may be in a hospital, ambulatory surgical center, skilled nursing facility, staff model HMO or clinic. This will usually be for physicians, physician assistants (PAs), advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), nurse midwives or certified nurse anesthetists (CNAs), podiatrists, clinical psychologist or clinical pharmacists.

7. Third party payors (health insurance companies, HMOs, etc.) will terminate the professional’s contract or panel membership with that organization.

8. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will act to revoke the professional’s DEA registration if he or she has one.

9. Many employers will not hire you or will terminate your employment if they discover your license has been disciplined in another state.

So, What Should You Do?

– Don’t take the easy way out by immediately relinquishing your license if you are notified you are under investigation.

– Don’t hide your head in the sand by thinking the case will just go away on its own.

– Don’t take the easy way out. If you are innocent of the charges, request a formal hearing and contest the charges; defend yourself.

– Do not request an informal hearing or a settlement agreement in which you admit the facts alleged against you are all true. If you do this, you are “pleading guilty.”

– Do immediately seek the advice of an attorney who has experience in such professional licensing matters and administrative hearings. They are out there, but you may have to search for one. Do this as soon as you get notice of any investigation and especially before you have talked to or made any statement (including a written one) to any investigator.

– Do purchase professional liability insurance that includes legal defense coverage for any professional license investigation against you, whether it is related to a malpractice claim or not. This insurance is cheap and will provide needed legal assistance at the time when you may be out of a job and not have money to hire an attorney. Beware of the insurance policy that only covers professional license defense if it is related to a malpractice claim.

Professional Liability Insurance.

We strongly encourage all licensed health professionals and facilities to purchase their own, independent insurance coverage. Make sure it covers professional license defense under all circumstances. Make sure you have enough coverage to actually get you through a hearing. $25,000 coverage for just professional licensure defense is the absolute minimum you should purchase; $50,000 may be adequate but $75,000 or $100,000 may be what you really need in such a situation. For a few dollars more (and I do mean only a few) you can usually purchase the higher limits.

Also, I will repeat, make sure it covers your legal defense in an administrative disciplinary proceeding against your license, even if there is no malpractice claim filed against you or likely to be filed against you.

We also recommend that you purchase coverage through an insurance company that allows you to select your own attorney and does not make you use one that the insurance company picks for you.

Companies we have encountered in the past who provide an inexpensive top quality insurance product for professional license defense costs include: CPH & Associates Insurance, Nurses Service Organization (NSO) Insurance, Healthcare Providers Organization (HPSO) Insurance and Lloyd’s of London Insurance.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physicians, nurses, pharmacists, pharmacies, dentists, mental health counselors, massage therapists and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

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.

Keywords: Department of Health investigation representation, DOH defense lawyer, DOH investigation, representation for DOH investigations, DOH investigation defense attorney, DOH representation, representation for board licensing complaint, board licensing complaint representation, board licensing complaint lawyer, board representation for healthcare professionals, licensure defense, licensure defense attorney, licensure defense representation, representation for administrative complaint, administrative licensure investigation representation, administrative hearing attorney, Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) representation, AHCA attorney, AHCA defense lawyer, nurse attorney, representation for nurses, nurse defense lawyer, healthcare attorney, representation for healthcare professionals, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, FBI agents, OIG special agents, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigators, representation for physicians, The Health Law Firm reviews, reviews for The Health Law Firm

“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 © 2019 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Although the Law Stacks the Deck Against You, Leaving a Foreign Body in a Patient Doesn’t Always Mean Negligence or Discipline

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

Leaving a foreign object (sometimes referred to as a “retained foreign body” or “RFB”) in a patient, such as a sponge, clamp, forceps, surgical needle, guide wire, part of a surgical instrument or other paraphernalia commonly used in surgical, examination, or other diagnostic procedures, does not necessarily mean that the physician has committed an act of negligence or that the physician will be disciplined by the Board of Medicine (BOM) or Department of Health (DOH). There are many defenses in such a case and many incidents which do not constitute negligence. However, as a preliminary matter, the law does seem to stack the deck against the physician in such cases.

Medical Negligence Statutes.

Section 766.102(3)(b), Florida Statutes (previously Section 768.45, Florida Statutes),
states:

The existence of a medical injury does not create any inference or presumption of negligence against a health care provider, and the claimant must maintain the burden of proving that an injury was proximately caused by a breach of the prevailing professional standard of care by the health care provider. . . . However, the discovery of the presence of a foreign body, such as a sponge, clamp, forceps, surgical needle, or other paraphernalia commonly used in surgical, examination, or diagnostic procedures, shall be prima facie evidence of negligence on the part of the health care provider.

Grounds for Disciplinary Action Against a License.

Chapter 456, Florida Statutes, applies to all health professionals who are licensed by the Florida Department of Health (DOH). Section 456.072(1), Florida Statutes, which provides the grounds for possible discipline of any licensed health professional contains a subsection (cc), which provides the following as a basis for disciplinary action:

Leaving a foreign body in a patient, such as a sponge, clamp, forceps, surgical needle, or other paraphernalia commonly used in surgical, examination, or other diagnostic procedures. For the purposes of this paragraph, it shall be legally presumed that retention of a foreign body is not in the best interest of the patient and is not within the standard of care of the profession, regardless of the intent of the professional.

Applicable to Others than Just Surgeons and Physicians.

We typically envision objects such as clamps or lap pads (“sponges”) being left in a patient after surgery. Note, however, these provisions of the law could apply equally to a nurse practitioner’s leaving a broken needle in a patient or a dentist’s leaving a burr or broken probe in a patient.

Res lpsa Loquitur.

Many surgeons and other physicians who are charged with such an allegation just give up, do not defend themselves, and agree to accept punishment from their professional board. The statutes quoted above are, basically, a restatement of the common law rule known as “res ipsa loquitur in medical malpractice cases.

The term “medical injury” in the statute refers to an injury sustained as a direct result of medical treatment or diagnosis, and does not encompass injuries totally unrelated thereto. Thus, when a plaintiff establishes that the injury is outside the scope of medical treatment or diagnosis, and the facts and circumstances attendant to the injury are such that, in light of past experience, negligence is the probable cause and the defendant is the probable actor, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is applicable.

In Florida, there is a Florida law that is set forth within Chapter 456, Florida Statutes. Chapter 456 of Florida Statutes applies to all health professionals who are licensed by the Florida Department of Health (DOH).

Many surgeons and other physicians who are charged with such an allegation just give up, do not defend themselves, and agree to accept punishment from their professional board.

Florida Cases on Retained Foreign Objects.

Archer v. Maddux, 645 So. 2d 544 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994) a surgeon left a tube in a patient after surgery by accident. The trial court dismissed the case because there was no affidavit from a medical expert corroborating that medical negligence had occurred that had been filed before the running of the statute of limitations. The Court of Appeal upheld the dismissal of the case.

DeAlmeida v. Graham, 524 So. 2d 666 (Fla. 4th DCA 1987), a surgeon left a Kelly clamp inside of a patient.

Moreover, the provision of Fla. Stat. ch. 766.102(4) that discovery of a “foreign body” such as surgical paraphernalia is prima facie evidence of negligence, is clearly inapplicable in a case where the mesh was intentionally placed in patient’s body as part of her treatment, and like screws, plates, pacemakers, and/or artificial joints was intended to permanently remain in her body. (Kenyon v. Miller, 756 So. 2d 133 (Fla. 3d DCA 2000)

Smith v. Zeagler, 116 Fla. 628, 157 So. 328 (1934)
It is negligence per se for a surgeon to leave a sponge in an abdominal incision made in his patient in the course of his performance of a surgical operation upon such patient. The burden of showing due care is upon a surgeon who leaves a sponge enclosed in a wound after the performance of an operation, and he cannot relieve himself from liability unless the sponge was so concealed that reasonable care on his part would not have disclosed it, and conditions were such that, in his professional judgment, a special exploration for the sponge would have endangered the safety of the patient. Where a patient’s condition is critical and the paramount requirement is complete the operation in the shortest possible time, the failure to remove a sponge may be an accidental and excusable ship or inadvertence that is not actionable negligence, depending upon the circumstances of the case, the burden being on the physician to show to the satisfaction of the jury that the particular act was not blame-worthy because of the supervening necessity to complete the operation without delay.

The authorities are legion to the effect that it is negligence [***3] per se for a surgeon to leave a sponge in an abdominal incision made in his patient in the course of his performance of a surgical operation upon such patient. Ruth v. Johnson, 172 Fed. 191; Reeves v. Lutz, 179 Mo. App. 61, 162 S.W. Rep. 280; Rayburn v. Day, 126 Oregon 135, 268 Pac. Rep. 1002; Wynne
v. Harvey, 96 Wash. 379, 165 Pac. Rep. 67; Harris v. Fall, 177 Fed. 79, 27 L.R.A (N.S.) 1174; Moore v. Ivey (Texas Civ. App.), 264 S.W. Rep. 283; 21 R.C.L. 388.

The burden of showing due care is upon a surgeon who leaves a sponge enclosed in a wound after the performance of an operation, and he cannot relieve himself from liability unless the sponge was so concealed that reasonable care on his part would not have disclosed it, and conditions were such that, in his professional judgment, a special exploration [*631] for the sponge would have endangered the safety of the patient. Davis v. Kerr, 239 Pa. 351, 86 Atl. Rep. 1007, 46 L.R.A. (N.S.) 611.


Adverse Consequences of Accepting Discipline in a RFB Case.

Many health professionals agree to accept punishment from their professional board without realizing the harsh consequences. Any disciplinary action will be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). If you are reported to the NPDB or another health care data base, you could have issues obtaining hospital privileges, state licenses, you may be excluded from the Medicare and Medicaid Programs, and it could also affect your ability to work in the health care field. Additionally, similar actions will be taken against any licenses you have in other states.

Shared Responsibility Between Surgeon and Hospital Staff.

Most hospitals have internal policies and procedures which make it a shared responsibility between the surgeon and the hospital’s staff (especially surgical technicians and operating room nurses) to safeguard against leaving foreign objects in patients.

The Health Law Firm has successfully defended physicians and other licensed health care professionals in administrative investigations and patients complaints relating to retained foreign bodies.

For more information on how we can help you in situations such as this, visit our Areas of Practice page on our website.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

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.

Keywords: Representation for licensed healthcare professionals, National Practitioner Data Bank, NPDB defense lawyer, NPDB representation, Department of Health investigation representation, DOH defense lawyer, DOH investigation, representation for DOH investigations, DOH investigation defense attorney, DOH representation, representation for board licensing complaint, board licensing complaint representation, board licensing complaint lawyer, board representation for healthcare professionals, licensure defense, licensure defense attorney, licensure defense representation, representation for administrative complaint, administrative licensure investigation representation, administrative hearing attorney, Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) representation, AHCA attorney, AHCA defense lawyer, nurse attorney, representation for nurses, nurse defense lawyer, healthcare attorney, representation for healthcare professionals, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, FBI agents, OIG special agents, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigators, representation for physicians, The Health Law Firm reviews, reviews for The Health Law Firm

“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 © 2019 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Review Your Florida DOH Practitioner Profile or it Could Cost You!

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

In 1997, the Florida Legislature passed a statute that requires the Department of Health (DOH) maintain online practitioner profiles for certain health care professionals. Practitioner profiles are required for medical doctors, osteopathic physicians (DOs), chiropractors (DCs), advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and podiatric physicians. The statute specified the required information to be maintained, how it was to be reported, and other requirements dealing with compiling and updating the information in the profiles.

To visit the DOH’s website and learn more about these profiles, click here.

What Information Does the Practitioner Profile Include?

The profile contains required and optional information from the healthcare provider. Required
information includes:

1. education and training, including other health-related degrees, professional and post graduate training specialty
2. current practice and mailing addresses
3. staff privileges and faculty appointments
4. reported financial responsibility
5. legal actions taken against the practitioner
6. board final disciplinary action taken against the practitioner
7. any liability claims filed against podiatric physicians which exceed $5,000
8. any liability claims filed against M.D.s and osteopathic physicians which exceed
$100,000

Optional information may include committees/memberships, professional or community
service awards, and publications the practitioner has authored.

These profiles are published on the DOH’s website. They are freely accessible by the public and are frequently used by employers, medical staff committees, and insurance panels to verify information provided by applicants.

Be Sure to Check Your Own Profile for Accuracy.

If you are a licenced profiled health care practitioner, you should review your profile information frequently and report any corrections to the DOH immediately! By law, you are responsible for updating your profile information within 15 days after a change of an occurrence in each section of the profile.

Unfortunately, information on practitioner profiles is not always 100 percent correct. Oftentimes, the information in a profile is outdated or misreported. The majority of the information in a profile is supposed to be entered through the website by the practitioner personally; however, the DOH is free to add information on its own.

It’s important to note that not all of the information on the practitioner profile is verified by the DOH. To view which information is self-reported, as well as reported by the DOH, click here to view the DOH’s profile guide.

Recently, The Health Law Firm had a client whose employment contract was not renewed due to misreported criminal history information on the DOH practitioner profile. Most troubling was the fact that this information appeared on the profile suddenly; it had not been on the practitioner profile in the past. Furthermore, the information was decades old and had been posted in direct violation of a court order sealing the underlying records.

We have also had cases where information was incorrect, where the same information was repeated several times, or where the information on the profile did not meet basic requirements for reporting.

Fight Misreported Information on Your Practitioner Profile.

The Health Law Firm has been successful in having the DOH remove criminal history information and other incorrect information from a practitioner profile.

It is imperative that you check your practitioner profile regularly to ensure that it is accurate with respect to the information that you provided and that may have been provided by the DOH. If you find that confidential or incorrect information has been posted to your profile, contact an attorney experienced with dealing with these matters immediately. You never know when your employer, a business associate or potential patient will look up your information on your profile.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Department of Health Matters and Investigations.

At the Health Law Firm we provide legal services for all health care providers and professionals. This includes physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, Durable Medical Equipment (DME) suppliers, medical students and interns, chiropractors, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes and any other health care provider

Our attorneys provide legal representation in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, Federal Bureau of Investigation (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.

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.

Keywords: Department of Health investigation representation, DOH defense lawyer, DOH investigation, representation for DOH investigations, DOH investigation defense attorney, DOH representation, representation for board licensing complaint, board licensing complaint representation, board licensing complaint lawyer, board representation for healthcare professionals, licensure defense, licensure defense attorney, licensure defense representation, representation for administrative complaint, administrative licensure investigation representation, healthcare license representation, administrative hearing attorney, Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) representation, AHCA attorney, AHCA defense lawyer, nurse attorney, representation for nurses, nurse defense lawyer, healthcare attorney, representation for healthcare professionals, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, FBI agents, OIG special agents, Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigators, representation for physicians, The Health Law Firm reviews, reviews for The Health Law Firm

“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 © 2019 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Court Says Walmart’s Firing Violated Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Law

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

On March 22, 2019, the U.S. District Court in Arizona granted summary judgment on anti-discrimination claims in favor of the plaintiff former employee and against Walmart under Arizona’s medical marijuana statute. The plaintiff, a former employee of Walmart, had been terminated after allegedly testing positive for marijuana.

This case is significant because as more states are adopting medical marijuana laws, this represents the growing risks to employers who engage in adverse employment actions against medical marijuana users. Furthermore, since the decision was in federal court, it is even more significant. In this case, Arizona employers gained some much needed guidance for navigating Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).

The court held that individuals with medical marijuana cards can sue their employers under the AMMA if action is taken against them merely because there is a positive drug test for the presence of marijuana. Also, employers cannot avoid liability by merely showing the employee tested positive because he or she had marijuana metabolites in their system.

The Case: Whitmire v. Wal-Mart, Inc.

In Whitmire v. Wal-Mart Inc., a former employee and qualified patient under the AMMA, injured her wrist while at work. Two days later, she notified human resources of pain and swelling in her injured wrist. At that time, her supervisor instructed her to seek medical treatment. Because she had used marijuana roughly twelve hours before her shift to help her sleep, the drug test was positive for marijuana.

As a result of that drug test alone, Wal-Mart terminated her employment. She then filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart, alleging that it had violated the AMMA by discriminating against her for her use of medical marijuana. The plaintiff argued that Walmart’s admitted policy of firing regardless of whether the employee possesses a medical marijuana card and regardless of the level detected constituted a complete disregard for the AMMA’s anti-discrimination provisions.

Violating Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).

The court agreed with the plaintiff and ruled that, without having produced any evidence that the plaintiff “used, possessed or was impaired by marijuana,” Walmart had discriminated against her in violation of the AMMA. Furthermore, by suspending and then terminating her solely based on her positive drug screen and in the absence of expert testimony, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff on her AMMA discrimination claim.

It should be remembered, however, that in this case, Arizona has a provision in its medical marijuana law that prohibits discrimination against legitimate users. Every state may not have this. If your state does not have a similar provision in your state’s medical marijuana law, you should lobby for an amendment to include one.

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

To read about a similar case of employment discrimination dealing with marijuana use, read one of my recent blogs here.

To read about marijuana workplace discrimination in other states such as Colorado, where recreational use is legal, click here to read one of our prior blogs on our Colorado Law Blog.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys for Medical 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 (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Peabody, Daniel. “A New Ruling on the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act: Did Your Drug Testing Policy Just Go Up in Smoke?” JD Supra. (February 21, 2019). Web.

Mooreman, William; Samolis, Alicia. “Employer Liability For Medical Marijuana Bias Is Growing.” Law360. (March 22, 2019). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in 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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“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 © 2019 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

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