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Two Admins at a Veterans Home Criminally Charged For Mishandling Deadly COVID-19 Outbreak

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

On September 25, 2020, two administrators at a Massachusetts veterans home were criminally charged with negligence for their role in a COVID-19 outbreak that killed 76 veterans. Attorney General (AG) Maura Healey reportedly stated that the criminal case involving Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke (SHH) is the first in the country against nursing home operators related to the pandemic.

Mishandling of the Coronavirus Outbreak.

The superintendent and the facility’s former medical director were indicted by a grand jury and charged with recklessly permitting bodily injury or abuse to the residents. The charges stem from their decision to combine two dementia units in March of 2020. They are accused of packing residents who were positive for the coronavirus into the same space as those with no symptoms. According to the AG, the decision contributed to the death of at least 76 residents at the facility.

The Investigation.

The AG’s Office began investigating in early April 2020 after learning of serious issues with COVID-19 infection control procedures at SHH. The investigation found that staffing shortages led to the decision to consolidate the two dementia units, totaling 42 residents. It resulted in confirmed COVID-19-positive residents being placed within feet of other veterans at the facility. The AG’s Office alleges that this decision was reckless from an infection control perspective and put the asymptomatic veterans at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 from the positive ones.

Since March 1, 2020, 76 veterans who contracted the coronavirus at SHH have died, officials said. Click here to read the Attorney General’s press release on the case.

To read about a similar case against a Florida nursing home, click here.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Veterans Administration (VA) Physician Representation and Military Physician Representation.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm have represented nursing home administrators, health care executives, nurses, nurse practitioners, assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and health professionals working for the Veterans Administration (VA) throughout the United States. Representation has included personnel and employment issues, disciplinary action, investigations, peer review investigations, clinical privileges actions, fair hearings, National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) actions, and appeals.

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

Sources:

Durkin, Alanna. “2 Charged Over Handling of Virus Outbreak at Veterans Home.” Associated Press. (September 25, 2020). Web.

Dowling, Bryan. “Mass. Vet Home Leaders Charged Over Deadly Virus Outbreak.” Law360. (September 25, 2020). Web.

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

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

 

HHS Announces New Changes to Regulatory Process: Secretary Must Sign All Agency Rulemaking

By Carole C. Schriefer, J.D.

In a September 15, 2020 memorandum, the current Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar, barred the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other federal health agencies under his authority from independently enacting any new federal regulations. The memo establishes that the Secretary must sign all agency rulemaking. This new policy affects all rules coming from all HHS agencies and offices, the department said, including the FDA, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and Office for Civil Rights. It doesn’t apply to guidance documents, emergency use authorizations, or vaccine or drug approvals.

How long this policy stands after President-elect Biden is sworn in is anybody’s guess. It is my guess that it won’t last long.

Why Make the Changes?

According to HHS, the new regulation-making procedures are to ensure consistency within HHS, compliance with congressional intent, the need to minimize the risk of litigation, and to provide public accountability. HHS regulations have been challenged in court based on the argument that officials who signed new regulations did not have the proper authority to do so.

The memo attempts to rationalize the change in the face of critics who claim that the move could negatively affect public trust in approval of COVID-19 vaccines and the entire approval process.

Rulemaking Process Before and After the Memo.

Before the policy change, the law and established departmental procedure required that all new regulations go through departmental and White House clearance and receive the Secretary’s approval. The regulations were typically signed by the Secretary and by the head of the agency involved. In some instances, other officials to whom authority had been delegated signed the new regulations.

Now, all HHS regulations will still go through departmental and White House clearance and will continue to be approved by the Secretary. But, the change effectively bars the FDA and other health agencies from signing off on any new regulations regarding the nation’s food, medicine, and other products under the HHS umbrella. The HHS Secretary himself must now sign all final regulations.

HHS released the following statement on this action:

“Before and after this action, no regulation issues from any part of HHS without the approval of the Secretary and the White House. The only change made by this memo is that, instead of the Secretary’s just approving all agency regulations, each regulation now also will be formally signed by him.”

Click here to read the HHS Statement on Regulatory Process.

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:

Stein, Shira. “HHS Secretary to Sign All Rules in Bid to Stem Litigation.” Bloomberg Law. (September 21, 2020). Web.

Keller and Heckman LLP. “A New Policy by HHS Secretary Alex Azar Will Prevent FDA and Other Health Agencies From Signing Final Rules.” National Law Review. (September 21, 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.

“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.

HHS Changes Regulatory Process: Secretary Must Sign All Agency Rulemaking

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

In a September 15, 2020 memorandum, the current Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Alex Azar, barred the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other federal health agencies under his authority from independently enacting any new federal regulations. The memo establishes that the Secretary must sign all agency rulemaking. This new policy affects all rules coming from all HHS agencies and offices, the department said, including the FDA, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and Office for Civil Rights. It doesn’t apply to guidance documents, emergency use authorizations, or vaccine or drug approvals.

How long this policy stands after President-elect Biden is sworn in is anybody’s guess. It is my guess that it won’t last long.

Why Make the Changes?

According to HHS, the new regulation-making procedures are to ensure consistency within HHS, compliance with congressional intent, the need to minimize the risk of litigation, and to provide public accountability. HHS regulations have been challenged in court based on the argument that officials who signed new regulations did not have the proper authority to do so.

The memo attempts to rationalize the change in the face of critics who claim that the move could negatively affect public trust in approval of COVID-19 vaccines and the entire approval process.

Rulemaking Process Before and After the Memo.

Before the policy change, the law and established departmental procedure required that all new regulations go through departmental and White House clearance and receive the Secretary’s approval. The regulations were typically signed by the Secretary and by the head of the agency involved. In some instances, other officials to whom authority had been delegated signed the new regulations.

Now, all HHS regulations will still go through departmental and White House clearance and will continue to be approved by the Secretary. But, the change effectively bars the FDA and other health agencies from signing off on any new regulations regarding the nation’s food, medicine, and other products under the HHS umbrella. The HHS Secretary himself must now sign all final regulations.

HHS released the following statement on this action:

“Before and after this action, no regulation issues from any part of HHS without the approval of the Secretary and the White House. The only change made by this memo is that, instead of the Secretary’s just approving all agency regulations, each regulation now also will be formally signed by him.”

Click here to read the HHS Statement on Regulatory Process.

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:

Stein, Shira. “HHS Secretary to Sign All Rules in Bid to Stem Litigation.” Bloomberg Law. (September 21, 2020). Web.

Keller and Heckman LLP. “A New Policy by HHS Secretary Alex Azar Will Prevent FDA and Other Health Agencies From Signing Final Rules.” National Law Review. (September 21, 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.

Florida Dentist’s COVID-19 Interruption Insurance Claim Dismissed by Judge

George Indest Headshot

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

On September 3, 2020, a Florida federal judge dismissed a suit for business interruption insurance payments by a Florida dentist. The dentist claimed he sustained damages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and related civil authority shutdowns of dental services. The dismissal freed Allied Insurance Company of America from having to pay the dentist’s for COVID-19 related losses, holding that the policy’s “virus exclusion” barred coverage of the insurance claim made.

Insurance Coverage for COVID-19 Related Losses.

The dentist sued his insurance carrier for damages that he argued were “caused by or result[ing] from a Covered Cause of Loss.” The causes of the alleged loss, he maintained, included the COVID-19 virus’s impact on his dental practice and the Florida governor’s emergency declaration that limited dental services during a period of time. Specifically, he claimed that he incurred costs to decontaminate his dental office and lost valuable income because of the governor’s dental services limitation. The dentist alleged that Allied breached the insurance contract by denying coverage in April.

Allied’s insurance policy provides coverage “for direct physical loss or damage to covered property at the [plaintiff’s] premises” that is “caused by or result[s] from any Covered Cause of Loss.” Allied argued that there was no direct physical loss or damage to covered property at the clinic due to appointment cancellations or the closure of the dental practice.

Dismissal of the Law Suit.

U.S. District Court Judge John Badalamenti, for the Middle District of Florida, dismissed the case. He found that the dental practice’s loss or damage asserted was “not due to a covered cause of loss.” More importantly, he found that the policy contained an exclusion for loss or damage caused “directly or indirectly,” by “[a]ny virus, bacterium or other microorganisms that induces or is capable of inducing physical distress, illness or disease.”

According to the judge’s order, in order for the insurer to provide coverage, losses from business suspension must be caused by direct physical loss or damage. He ruled that the dentist failed to demonstrate what the policy required in order to be a covered loss. To read the order in full, click here.

With such a specific exclusion as this policy contained, it was difficult for the judge in the case to rule any other way.

Litigation on Whether Insurance Policies Should Cover Losses Due to Coronavirus Closures.

This recent Florida dismissal is another in a string of cases where insurers have prevailed in Coronavirus business loss cases, because of similar exclusions in their policies. In a similar case, a Michigan federal judge sided with the insurance company saying it didn’t have to cover a chiropractic office’s COVID-19 claimed losses. Like the case above, the judge said the business failed to allege physical loss and, therefore, the policy’s virus exclusion barred coverage. Click here to read the judge’s order in this case.

According to insurance experts and regulators, most businesses and professionals will probably find it difficult to obtain an insurance payout because of policy changes made after the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak. SARS, which infected 8,000 people, led to millions of dollars in business-interruption insurance claims. As a result, many insurers added exclusions to standard commercial policies for virus losses. The added policy language potentially allows insurance companies to avoid hundreds of billions of dollars in business-interruption claims because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since a wide-scale virus outbreak is such a rare event, most policy purchasers overlooked this exception. There certainly wasn’t any concerted effort to make insureds aware of the exclusion nor to offer them the opportunity to purchase specific virus outbreak insurance coverage.

A global pandemic presents unique problems for insurance companies. After the SARS outbreak at the beginning of this millennium, many insurance companies realized they would not be able to cover such a broad-scale event causing massive losses. Such an event could have damages greater than those sustained in the largest hurricane to strike the U.S. The insurance industry argued to state regulators that such policy exclusions were necessary, considering the overwhelming number of claims that might arise from a single disease outbreak.

This foresight on the part of the insurance companies saved their shareholders billions, if not trillions, of dollars. Unfortunately business and professionals have had to shoulder the losses.

So, it begs the question: Did insurers actually know the potential damage a viral pandemic could wreak on businesses and, therefore, purposefully exclude coverage? Disputes over the precise wording of business insurance policies will most likely continue to generate court battles like those discussed above.

Read my prior blog on this subject to learn more.

Recommendation for the Future.

There are several options that businesses and state insurance regulators should consider to try to prevent such massive losses from going uncompensated in the future.

First would be to create and provide virus damage insurance similar to that provided for flood insurance by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The biggest problem would be that losses could easily exceed the largest hurricane that one could imagine. However, the NFIP has shown this type of plan works.

Second would be similar programs provided at the state level. At the present time, many states, have captive insurance companies to fund losses from wind damage caused by storms. In Florida, the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (CPIC) provides such coverage.

The biggest problem I see with both of the above is that short-sighted and selfish people don’t want to purchase such insurance and, thereby, make it less expensive for all involved. They figure that the government will bail them out anyway in such an event, so why should they pay. Therefore, either making it paid for completely with taxpayer money or a requirement of obtaining a business license or professional license or some combination, may be a way to finance it.

Creating a trust fund with assessments to employers and employees, similar to what is currently done for social security, would be another option. Creating a large trust fund that could cover such tragic events might work best. However, this would have to be made “raider safe” so that Congress does not come back and raid these funds and use them for other purposes like it has done to the United States Postal Service (USPS).

At the very least, some type of universal virus pandemic business loss insurance should be mandated by law or, at least, partially funded by the government. Making it mandatory means making it cheaper and making it work.

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. 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 (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com

Sources:

Zhang, Daphne. “Fla. Dentist’s Bid For COVID-19 Loss Coverage Axed.” Law360. (September 3, 2020). Web.

Zhang, Daphne. “State Farm Needn’t Cover Chiropractor’s COVID-19 Losses.” Law360. (September 3, 2020). Web.

Frankel, Todd. “Insurers knew the damage a viral pandemic could wreak on businesses. So they excluded coverage.” The Washington Post. (April 2, 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: healthcare employment law representation, legal representation for physicians, doctor 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, business insurance representation, business interruption insurance claims defense, COVID-19 business insurance claim representation, The Health Law Firm, reviews of The Health Law Firm Attorneys, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews, legal representation for physicians and health care professionals, attorney for physician suits against insurers, complex medical business litigation against health insurers

“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.

 

Two Administrators Charged With Negligence For Deadly COVID-19 Outbreak at Veterans Home

George Indest Headshot

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

On September 25, 2020, two administrators at a Massachusetts veterans home were criminally charged with negligence for their role in a COVID-19 outbreak that killed 76 veterans. Attorney General (AG) Maura Healey reportedly stated that the criminal case involving Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke (SHH) is the first in the country against nursing home operators related to the pandemic.

Mishandling of the Coronavirus Outbreak.

The superintendent and the facility’s former medical director were indicted by a grand jury and charged with recklessly permitting bodily injury or abuse to the residents. The charges stem from their decision to combine two dementia units in March of 2020. They are accused of packing residents who were positive for the coronavirus into the same space as those with no symptoms. According to the AG, the decision contributed to the death of at least 76 residents at the facility.

The Investigation.

The AG’s Office began investigating in early April 2020 after learning of serious issues with COVID-19 infection control procedures at SHH. The investigation found that staffing shortages led to the decision to consolidate the two dementia units, totaling 42 residents. It resulted in confirmed COVID-19-positive residents being placed within feet of other veterans at the facility. The AG’s Office alleges that this decision was reckless from an infection control perspective and put the asymptomatic veterans at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 from the positive ones.

Since March 1, 2020, 76 veterans who contracted the coronavirus at SHH have died, officials said. Click here to read the Attorney General’s press release on the case.

To read about a similar case against a Florida nursing home, click here.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Veterans Administration (VA) Physician Representation and Military Physician Representation.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm have represented nursing home administrators, health care executives, nurses, nurse practitioners, assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and health professionals working for the Veterans Administration (VA) throughout the United States. Representation has included personnel and employment issues, disciplinary action, investigations, peer review investigations, clinical privileges actions, fair hearings, National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) actions, and appeals.

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

Sources:

Durkin, Alanna. “2 Charged Over Handling of Virus Outbreak at Veterans Home.” Associated Press. (September 25, 2020). Web.

Dowling, Bryan. “Mass. Vet Home Leaders Charged Over Deadly Virus Outbreak.” Law360. (September 25, 2020). Web.

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

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

 

 

Two Criminally Charged For Mishandling Deadly COVID-19 Outbreak at Veterans Home

By Carole C. Schriefer, J.D.

On September 25, 2020, two administrators at a Massachusetts veterans home were criminally charged with negligence for their role in a COVID-19 outbreak that killed 76 veterans. Attorney General (AG) Maura Healey reportedly stated that the criminal case involving Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke (SHH) is the first in the country against nursing home operators related to the pandemic.


Did They Mishandle the Deadly Coronavirus Outbreak?

The superintendent and the facility’s former medical director were indicted by a grand jury and charged with recklessly permitting bodily injury or abuse to the residents. The charges stem from their decision to combine two dementia units in March of 2020. They are accused of packing residents who were positive for the coronavirus into the same space as those with no symptoms. According to the AG, the decision contributed to the death of at least 76 residents at the facility.

AG’s Investigation.

The AG’s Office began investigating early April 2020 after learning of serious issues with COVID-19 infection control procedures at SHH. The investigation found that staffing shortages led to the decision to consolidate the two dementia units, totaling 42 residents. It resulted in confirmed COVID-19-positive residents being placed within feet of other veterans at the facility. The AG’s Office alleges that this decision was reckless from an infection control perspective and put the asymptomatic veterans at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 from the positive ones.

Since March 1, 2020, 76 veterans who contracted the coronavirus at SHH have died, officials said. Click here to read the Attorney General’s press release on the case.

To read about a similar case against a Florida nursing home, click here.

Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Veterans Administration (VA) Physician Representation and Military Physician Representation.

The Health Law Firm attorneys have represented nursing home administrators, health care executives, nurses, nurse practitioners, assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and health professionals working for the Veterans Administration (VA) throughout the United States. Representation has included personnel and employment issues, disciplinary action, investigations, peer review investigations, clinical privileges actions, fair hearings, National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) actions, and appeals.

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

Sources:

Durkin, Alanna. “2 Charged Over Handling of Virus Outbreak at Veterans Home.” Associated Press. (September 25, 2020). Web.

Dowling, Bryan. “Mass. Vet Home Leaders Charged Over Deadly Virus Outbreak.” Law360. (September 25, 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.  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. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com

“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.

 

 

Yale University Agrees to Pay $87,500 to Settle Allegations It Underpaid Female Doctors

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

Yale University agreed to pay $87,500 to resolve discrimination allegations with the U.S. Department of Labor. The discrimination alleged that the Ivy League school paid four women cardiologists significantly less than their male colleagues from October 2016 to September 2017. While not admitting the allegations, the university agreed to the settlement which will reportedly cover the difference in pay for the women affected, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) said.

Alleged Pay Discrimination.

The OFCCP first detected the pay disparities during a routine compliance audit of the university’s medical school, the agreement said. The agency found that in 2016, Yale University paid four female cardiologists less than similarly situated male physicians at the School of Medicine’s Cardiovascular Medicine Section.

According to the settlement, Yale hired the doctors as part of the university’s “acquisition of community practices and hospitals associated with the Yale-New Haven Hospital System.” In 2018, Yale allegedly cut the women doctors’ employment category and moved them to a new faculty category. OFCCP claims that the medical school category is supposed to have a uniform compensation structure in place. Click here to read the settlement agreement in full.

In response to the allegations, a Yale was quoted as saying: “The conciliation agreement involves only four employees out of a workforce of over 16,000. OFCCP admitted that it found no pay disparities as to any but these four employees, who held roles in an employment category that has not existed for over two years.”

To read the press release issued by the Department of Labor, click here.

Additionally, read my recent blog on a previous discrimination lawsuit against Yale.

What does this show us? That at least in federal programs and in educational institutions and medical programs receiving federal funds, discrimination is prohibited and action will be taken to remedy it.

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

At the Health Law Firm, we provide legal services for physicians, including residents, and fellows, as well as medical students. We also represent other health professionals, clinical professors, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, and other healthcare providers. We represent health facilities, medical 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, physicians, including those involved in clinical research, complaints, and investigations.

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

Sources:

Ottaway, Amanda. “Yale Settles OFCCP Claims That It Underpaid Female Doctors.” Law360. (October 5, 2020). Web.

Smith, Paige. “Yale University Settles DOL Claims of Pay Bias Against Women (1).” Bloomberg Law. (October 2, 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

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Non-physician Pill Mill Owners in Tampa Sentenced To Prison Time For Illegal Distribution Of Opioids

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

On October 7, 2020, two owners of a medical practice in Tampa, Florida, were sentenced to federal prison time for their roles in the illegal distribution of opioids. U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven sentenced Ernest Gonzalez to 46 months and Rosa Colon to 24 months in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute and dispense controlled substances for no legitimate medical purpose.

Plot to Illegally Distribute Controlled Substances.

According to court documents, Gonzalez served as the president and owner of Health and Pain Center (HPC), a Tampa pain management clinic. In June 2011, he transferred his executive title and ownership of HPC to Colon. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) obtained a warrant in October 2016, while both were active participants of the administration and management of HPC.

The two owners allegedly hired physicians at HPC, who routinely prescribed controlled substances to patients eeking pain mediciations. Federal authorities always allege that such prescriptions are “outside the scope of professional (medical) practice.” Additionally, the owners are alleged to have participated and facilitated the physicians’ illegal prescribing practices by instructing employees to overlook failed urinalysis screens that help to detect drug abusers.

According to court papers, the owners also obtained MRI studies and other documents that the physicians used to justify the high volume of opioid prescriptions. According to court documents, the owners operated HPC as a cash-only business with little to no medical equipment on-site and staff with no medical training.

The owners pled guilty on September 11, 2018. It is unclear as to why they were not sentenced until October 7, 2020. As part of their sentences, the court entered money judgments of $47,780.96 against Gonzalez and $765,356.76 against Colon. This was in addition to the prison time stated above.

The facts above are typical of those in other state and federal prosecutions against physicians, pharmacists, and clinic owners. If you are a physician who is working for a clinic owned by non-physicians, you need to be very careful that you are working for a legitimate organization. If you are being pressured to write prescriptions for narcotics for patients, you need to be very careful about what you do and why you do it. Often physicians who work for pill mills just bury their heads in the sand and rationalize why they are writing and refilling the same prescriptions for opioids month after month.

For the past ten years, in Florida, the DEA, the Department of Health, the state Attorney General, and multi-jurisdictional task forces have been targeting physicians who write prescriptions for narcotics and pharmacies that fill such prescriptions. There are very few left. The cross-hairs of the regulators and law enforcement are now targeting those who are involved in only very small quantities. Watch out, it could be you next!

View the press release issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.

Read my prior blog and learn more about pill mills, here.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with DEA Cases.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm are experienced in handling Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) cases, board of medicine cases, and board of pharmacy case, Department of Health (DOH) investigations, and Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) investigations, regarding allegations of over-prescribing and illegal prescribing. If you are currently being investigated or facing other adverse actions by the DEA or a state licensing board, contact one of our attorneys by calling (407) 331-6620 or toll-free at (888) 331-6620. You can also visit our website for more information at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.


Sources:

“Tampa Pill Mill Owners Sentenced To Prison For Illegal Distribution Of Opioids.” Tampa Free Press. (October 11, 2020). Web.

Otero, Sebastian. “Tampa pill mill owners sentenced to prison for illegal distribution of opioids.” ABC 7 WWSB. (October 8, 2020). Web.

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

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

 

Judge Dismisses Dentist’s COVID-19 Business Interruption Insurance Claim in Florida

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

On September 3, 2020, a Florida federal judge dismissed a suit for business interruption insurance payments by a Florida dentist. The dentist claimed he sustained damages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and related civil authority shutdowns of dental services. The dismissal freed Allied Insurance Company of America from having to pay the dentist’s for COVID-19 related losses, holding that the policy’s “virus exclusion” barred coverage of the insurance claim made.

Insurance Coverage for COVID-19 Related Losses.

The dentist sued his insurance carrier for damages that he argued were “caused by or result[ing] from a Covered Cause of Loss.” The causes of the alleged loss, he maintained, included the COVID-19 virus’s impact on his dental practice and the Florida governor’s emergency declaration that limited dental services during a period of time. Specifically, he claimed that he incurred costs to decontaminate his dental office and lost valuable income because of the governor’s dental services limitation. The dentist alleged that Allied breached the insurance contract by denying coverage in April.

Allied’s insurance policy provides coverage “for direct physical loss or damage to covered property at the [plaintiff’s] premises” that is “caused by or result[s] from any Covered Cause of Loss.” Allied argued that there was no direct physical loss or damage to covered property at the clinic due to appointment cancellations or the closure of the dental practice.

Dismissal of the Law Suit.

U.S. District Court Judge John Badalamenti, for the Middle District of Florida, dismissed the case. He found that the dental practice’s loss or damage asserted was “not due to a covered cause of loss.” More importantly, he found that the policy contained an exclusion for loss or damage caused “directly or indirectly,” by “[a]ny virus, bacterium or other microorganisms that induces or is capable of inducing physical distress, illness or disease.”

According to the judge’s order, in order for the insurer to provide coverage, losses from business suspension must be caused by direct physical loss or damage. He ruled that the dentist failed to demonstrate what the policy required in order to be a covered loss. To read the order in full, click here.

With such a specific exclusion as this policy contained, it was difficult for the judge in the case to rule any other way.

Litigation on Whether Insurance Policies Should Cover Losses Due to Coronavirus Closures.

This recent Florida dismissal is another in a string of cases where insurers have prevailed in Coronavirus business loss cases, because of similar exclusions in their policies. In a similar case, a Michigan federal judge sided with the insurance company saying it didn’t have to cover a chiropractic office’s COVID-19 claimed losses. Like the case above, the judge said the business failed to allege physical loss and, therefore, the policy’s virus exclusion barred coverage. Click here to read the judge’s order in this case.

According to insurance experts and regulators, most businesses and professionals will probably find it difficult to obtain an insurance payout because of policy changes made after the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak. SARS, which infected 8,000 people, led to millions of dollars in business-interruption insurance claims. As a result, many insurers added exclusions to standard commercial policies for virus losses. The added policy language potentially allows insurance companies to avoid hundreds of billions of dollars in business-interruption claims because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since a wide-scale virus outbreak is such a rare event, most policy purchasers overlooked this exception. There certainly wasn’t any concerted effort to make insureds aware of the exclusion nor to offer them the opportunity to purchase specific virus outbreak insurance coverage.

A global pandemic presents unique problems for insurance companies. After the SARS outbreak at the beginning of this millennium, many insurance companies realized they would not be able to cover such a broad-scale event causing massive losses. Such an event could have damages greater than those sustained in the largest hurricane to strike the U.S. The insurance industry argued to state regulators that such policy exclusions were necessary, considering the overwhelming number of claims that might arise from a single disease outbreak.

This foresight on the part of the insurance companies saved their shareholders billions, if not trillions, of dollars. Unfortunately business and professionals have had to shoulder the losses.

So, it begs the question: Did insurers actually know the potential damage a viral pandemic could wreak on businesses and, therefore, purposefully exclude coverage? Disputes over the precise wording of business insurance policies will most likely continue to generate court battles like those discussed above.

Read my prior blog on this subject to learn more.

Recommendation for the Future.

There are several options that businesses and state insurance regulators should consider to try to prevent such massive losses from going uncompensated in the future.

First would be to create and provide virus damage insurance similar to that provided for flood insurance by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The biggest problem would be that losses could easily exceed the largest hurricane that one could imagine. However, the NFIP has shown this type of plan works.

Second would be similar programs provided at the state level. At the present time, many states, have captive insurance companies to fund losses from wind damage caused by storms. In Florida, the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (CPIC) provides such coverage.

The biggest problem I see with both of the above is that short-sighted and selfish people don’t want to purchase such insurance and, thereby, make it less expensive for all involved. They figure that the government will bail them out anyway in such an event, so why should they pay. Therefore, either making it paid for completely with taxpayer money or a requirement of obtaining a business license or professional license or some combination, may be a way to finance it.

Creating a trust fund with assessments to employers and employees, similar to what is currently done for social security, would be another option. Creating a large trust fund that could cover such tragic events might work best. However, this would have to be made “raider safe” so that Congress does not come back and raid these funds and use them for other purposes like it has done to the United States Postal Service (USPS).

At the very least, some type of universal virus pandemic business loss insurance should be mandated by law or, at least, partially funded by the government. Making it mandatory means making it cheaper and making it work.

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. 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 (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.ThehealthLawFirm.com

Sources:

Zhang, Daphne. “Fla. Dentist’s Bid For COVID-19 Loss Coverage Axed.” Law360. (September 3, 2020). Web.

Zhang, Daphne. “State Farm Needn’t Cover Chiropractor’s COVID-19 Losses.” Law360. (September 3, 2020). Web.

Frankel, Todd. “Insurers knew the damage a viral pandemic could wreak on businesses. So they excluded coverage.” The Washington Post. (April 2, 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.

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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 © 2020 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

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