Category Archives: Nurses

Is It Legal to Make Flu Shots Mandatory for Health Care Professionals?

00011_RT8By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The warnings have been loud and clear from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This influenza season is off to an early and serious start. With that in mind, a number of states are requiring all health professionals in the state to receive the flu vaccination. Some of those opposed to getting vaccinated are being fired by hospitals and health facilities. Because of this, a controversy is arising between employee rights and patient safety, according to a number of news sources.

Click here to read more on this year’s flu season from the CDC.

Mandatory Flu Shots to Keep Patients Safe.

In December 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced a 10-year agenda to improve the nation’s health. It’s called Healthy People 2020. A part of this agenda calls for a ninety percent (90%) average vaccination rate of health professionals. Click here to read the press release on the Healthy People 2020 initiative from the DHHS.

According to an American Medical News article, there’s a push in the medical community to meet this goal as soon as possible. The CDC states that as of November 18, 2011, close to eighty-four percent (84%) of doctors in the U.S. had been immunized against influenza. The CDC is praising these doctors for this high number, hoping other health professionals and the public will follow suit.

The safety of patients is the chief reason for the mandate. In an ABC News article, one Indiana hospital said that it implemented the mandatory vaccine in September of 2012, to promote patient safety. Of the hospital’s 26,000 employees statewide, ninety-five percent (95%) have complied.

Health Care Professionals Are Fired If They Refuse to Get the Vaccine.

A large majority of employees at the Indiana hospital complied with the mandate; however, 1,300 employees did not. According to ABC News, eight employees, including at least three veteran nurses, were allegedly fired because they refused to get a flu vaccine.

The fired nurses are standing their ground, saying they should have the right to refuse the flu vaccine. One nurse had filed two medical exemption requests, a religious exemption request and two appeals. All were denied by the hospital. To read more on this story from ABC News, click here.

In October 2012, Rhode Island mandated immunizations for all health care workers who have patient contact. On December 6, 2012, a health care worker union filed a federal lawsuit against the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) to prevent it from implementing the regulations, according to a Fierce Healthcare article. Click here to read the entire Fierce Healthcare article.

Arguments Against the Flu Shot.

The attorney representing the Indiana nurses, who were fired, states that his clients had the right to refuse their flu shots. He argues Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits religious discrimination against employees. The attorney is suggesting religion is legally broad under the First Amendment, so it can include any strongly held belief. According to a Chicago Tribune article, in 2009 New York mandated flu shots for all health workers, during the H1N1 outbreak. Unions fought the issue in court, and the state has since relaxed the rule.

The Flu in Florida.

I’ve recently received calls from several local health care professionals working in different Florida hospitals, regarding refusing flu shots and other vaccinations. I’ve also read the news stories about Tampa General Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa requiring employees to receive the influenza vaccine. According to the news articles, the two Tampa health facilities require employees who refuse the flu shot to wear surgical masks.

However, the states and hospitals may not back down in this case. The issue may have to be decided by the courts. I promise to write more on this topic later.

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, Durable Medical Equipment suppliers, medical students and interns, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pain management clinics, nursing homes, and any other health care provider. We represent facilities, individuals, groups and institutions in contracts, sales, mergers and acquisitions.

The services we provide include reviewing and negotiating contracts, business transactions, professional license defense, representation in investigations, credential defense, representation in peer review and clinical privileges hearings, Medicare and Medicaid audits, commercial litigation, and administrative hearings.

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

Comments?

What do you think of mandated flu shots for health care workers? Is receiving a flu shot mandatory at your job? As a health care professional, do you think it is important to receive a flu shot? Is there enough medical evidence to justify firing health care professionals for not receiving the flu shot? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
Sources:

Lupkin, Sydney. “Nurses Fire for Refusing Flu Shot.” ABC News. (January 3, 2013). From: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/indiana-hospital-fires-nurses-refusing-flu-shot/story?id=18116967

Moyer, Christine. “More Physicians on Track to get Flu Shots.” American Medical News. (December 14, 2012). From: http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2012/12/10/hlsb1214.htm

Cheung-Larivee, Karen. “Health Unions Sue Over Mandated Flu Shots.” Fierce Healthcare. (December 10, 2012). From: http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/story/health-unions-sue-over-mandated-flu-shots/2012-12-10

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

 

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Nurse Accused of Illegally Writing Herself Prescriptions for Painkillers

10 Indest-2008-7By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

A Central Florida nurse is in trouble with the law for allegedly writing fake prescriptions and illegally obtaining painkillers for herself, according to the Orlando NBC affiliate, WESH television. The nurse was allegedly arrested during the week of December 31, 2012. She is accused of trafficking in oxycodone and trying to fill forged prescriptions.

Click here to read the WESH article.

Pharmacist Did Not Fall for Fake Prescriptions.

According to an Orlando Sentinel article, a pharmacist, who was suspicious of one of the prescriptions the nurse tried to fill, called the doctor listed on the prescription. The doctor informed the pharmacist that she (the doctor) was the nurse’s employer, and the nurse was not a patient. It was then discovered that the nurse used the names of two doctors at her place of employment. She had stolen the prescriptions to obtain painkillers for herself.

A search of Florida’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Database allegedly showed that the nurse had obtained dozens of prescriptions for controlled substances for herself in the past year.

To read the article from the Orlando Sentinel, click here.

Nurse’s License is Currently Suspended.

According to the Department of Health (DOH) the nurse’s license is currently suspended. A complaint on the nurse’s record also shows that in December 2009, the nurse admitted to stealing pain medication from her patients. Click here to read the entire complaint from the DOH.

Useful Tips on How to Prevent Employees from Stealing.

I recently wrote an article for Medical Economics on how to prevent or detect employee embezzlement in the medical or dental office. It contains valuable information for any small health care practice owner. Topics discussed in the article include: how to recognize embezzlement warning signs, steps to take to safeguard your assets, and the proper way to take action against a suspected embezzler. To read it in its entirety, click here.

I have also written a number of blogs on abuses with narcotics. See my blog on a fake prescription ring busted in Osceola County, and a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arrest of a doctor allegedly on crack cocaine charges, for example.

 

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations, in appearances before the Board of Nursing in licensing matters and in many other legal matters. We represent nurses across the U.S., and throughout Florida.

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

 

Comments?

As a health professional how do you keep tabs on your important office supplies? How would you handle an employee stealing from your office? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Pavuk, Amy. “Nurse Charged with Stealing Scripts, Illegally Obtaining Painkillers.” Orlando Sentinel. (January 3, 2013). From: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-01-02/news/os-nurse-arrested-prescription-drugs-20130102_1_fake-prescriptions-prescription-sheets-cvs

WESH-TV. “Nurse Accused of Illegally Obtaining Painkillers.” WESH. (January 3, 2013). From: http://www.wesh.com/news/central-florida/seminole-county/Nurse-accused-of-illegally-obtaining-painkillers/-/17597106/17995906/-/dmj2se/-/index.html?absolute=true

Department of Health v. Tabetha Terry, R.N. Case Number 2010-13467. Administrative Complaint. (February 22, 2011). From: http://www.thehealthlawfirm.com/uploads/tabetha%20terry%20complaint.pdf

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

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Almost 19% of Nurse Aides Charged with Abuse and Neglect in 2010 had Prior Criminal Records

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

A report released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) on October 5, 2012, found that nineteen percent (19%) of long-term care nurse aides who were found guilty of on-the-job abuse, neglect or property theft in 2010 had prior criminal records that would have showed up on a background check. Click here to read the entire report from the HHS OIG.

Background Check Program Initiated to Decrease Abuse Cases.

Section 6201 of the Affordable Care Act establishes a background check program. This voluntary program gives grants to states that support nursing home employee background checks. The report was released to assess the ability of the background check program to help decrease the number of neglect, abuse and misappropriation of resident property cases.

Nurse Aides Mostly Convicted for Burglary and Larceny.

Out of 1,611 nurse aides charged with abuse, neglect or property theft in 2010, 300 nurse aides had at least one prior criminal conviction. The Inspector General (IG) found the majority of disciplined nurse aides with records had been convicted of burglary, larceny or other crimes against property. Of the 300 nurse aides, 170 of them had at least one conviction prior to their date of registration as a nurse aide. The remaining 130 nurse aides, each had at least one conviction after the date of their registration. In a National Public Radio (NPR) story, a nursing professor from the University of California, San Francisco, said she is “most disturbed by the fact that nursing homes had hired some aides who’d been convicted of serious crimes.” Click here to read the NPR article.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses and Nurse Aides.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses and nurse aides in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, in appearances before the Board of Nursing in licensing matters and in many other legal matters. We represent nurses across the U.S., and throughout Florida. To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?
As a nurse, nursing aide or any other health professional, what do you think of this report? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Schultz, David. “Among Disciplined Nurse Aides, Criminal Records Turn Up.” NPR. (October 11, 2012). From: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/10/11/162636910/among-disciplined-nurse-aides-criminal-records-turn-up

Wright. Stuart. “Criminal Convictions for Nurses Aides With Substantiated Findings of Abuse, Neglect, and Misappropriation.” Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. (October 5, 2012). From: http://www.thehealthlawfirm.com/uploads/Criminal%20Convictions%20for%20nurses%20aides.pdf

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

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

Nurses Take a Look at This Disciplinary Action Database

By Christopher E. Brown, J.D.

Nurses, did you know the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) maintains a database of all state disciplinary actions?  This database, called Licensure QuickConfirm, lists all disciplinary actions from the Florida Board of Nursing and forty-six (46) other state boards. It is frequently used by hospitals and medical groups to screen potential employees.

To search the Licensure QuickConfirm list, click here.

The Boards of Nursing Supply Information to Database.

According to the website, all information listed on the database comes directly from the boards of nursing. A report will contain:
- the nurse’s name, - licensed jurisdiction,- license type

- license number,

- compact status (single state or multistate),

- license original issue date,

- license expiration date,

- discipline against license, and

- discipline against privilege to practice.

Check your Profile Immediately for Errors.

If you have recently received discipline from the Florida Board of Nursing, or any other state board of nursing, it would be prudent to immediately check this website to verify that any information listed under your profile is accurate.  The website clearly states that it is the nurse’s responsibility to contact the board of nursing to update his or her information.

Our law firm recently encountered errors on this database that our client contended caused him lost employment opportunities.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Nurses.

The Health Law Firm’s attorneys routinely represent nurses in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, in appearances before the Board of Nursing in licensing matters and in many other legal matters. We represent nurses across the U.S., and throughout Florida.

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

About the Author: Christopher E. Brown, J.D., 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 Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

California and Colorado Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) Can Administer Anesthesia Without the Supervision of a Physician

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

Recently, courts in both California and Colorado ruled that Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are now allowed to independently administer anesthesia to patients without the supervision of a physician. In California, the decision came from the First District Court of Appeals on March 15, 2012. In Colorado, an appeals court allowed the same practice on July 19, 2012.

A recent article in American Medical News (AMN) summarizes these cases. To see the entire article, click here.

Cases Come from a Decision Made by Governors to Opt Out of Requiring CRNAs to be Watched by Physicians.

According to the AMN article, the California and Colorado cases both stem from a decision made by the sates’ governors to opt out of requiring CRNAs to be supervised by a physician. Ordinarily, in order for hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, and critical access hospitals to receive Medicare reimbursement under Medicare when a CRNA administers anesthesia, federal regulations require that the CRNA must be supervised by a physician. However, states can opt out if governors consult with the appropriate medical boards and decide that an exemption is in the best interest of the citizens of the state.

The Colorado Medical Society and the Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists Sue.

The Colorado court case states that in 2010, the then-Colorado governor decided to opt out critical access hospitals and 14 rural hospitals in the state. The Colorado Medical Society and the Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists sued contending that the opt out was inconsistent with the state law. The plaintiffs requested the Colorado governor’s decision be blocked by the court.

In 2011, a Colorado district court upheld the exemption. The plaintiffs then appealed.

On July 19, 2012, the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with the district court’s decision and ruled in favor of independent CRNAs.

Click here to read the entire Colorado Court of Appeals case.

California Ruled in Favor of Independent CRNAs Too.

In California, in 2009, the state chose to opt out of requiring physician supervision of CRNAs in Medicare-participating hospitals. The California Medical Association and the California Society of Anesthesiologists sued to block the opt out. The trial court concluded that the opt out was consistent with the law and ruled in favor of independent CRNAs.

On March 15, 2012, the First District Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court’s decision to allow the exemption.

To read the full California Court of Appeals case, click here.

Disagreement on Ruling Between Doctors and CRNAs.

According to the American Medical News article, the regional director of the Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists calls the ruling a safety issue for patients. He believes that by removing a physician’s oversight from the delivery process it diminishes patient care.

Click here to read an opinion article written by a Board Certified Anesthesiologist in Colorado agreeing that unsupervised CRNAs can put patients’ health at risk.

On the other hand, the president of the Colorado Association of Nurse Anesthetist praises the ruling stating, in the article, that research shows no differences in patient morbidity or mortality rates whether or not CRNAs are under a doctor’s supervision.

Click here to read the press release from the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA).

A Sample of the Liability Risks Associated with Being a CRNA.

The administration of anesthesia by a CRNA requires special training and certification. Oversight and availability of an anesthesiologist is required by most organizations. The major risks for CRNAs include the improper placement and maintenance of an airway, failure to recognize significant changes in a patient’s condition and the improper use of anesthetics.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) in most legal matters, whether concerning licensure, investigations, allegations of impairment or substance abuse, clinical privileges, contracts or employment disputes.

Whether your legal problem involves negotiating a contract or litigating payment issues, we have the experience. We routinely represent nurse practitioners and other health providers in defending allegations of impairment, drug abuse and diversion, as well as in peer review, clinical privileges or certification by a professional association. Medicare payment issues, Medicaid payment issues and insurance payment issues are among those we routinely encounter.

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

Sources:

Gallegos, Alicia. “Court Rules Nurse Anesthetists Don’t Need Physician Supervision.” American Medical News. (August 6, 2012). From: http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2012/08/06/prsa0806.htm

Moss, DO, William. “Anesthesia best Left to Experts” Colorado Society of Anesthesiologists. (August 1, 2012). From:

http://csa-online.org/pdfs/Anesthesia_best_left_to_experts.pdf

Shaffer, Scott. “Colorado Appellate Court Uphold Opt Out from Federal Anesthesia Rule.” American Association of Nurse Anesthetists. (July 19, 2012). From: http://www.aana.com/newsandjournal/News/Pages/071912-Colorado-Appellate-Court-Upholds-Opt-Out-from-Federal-Anesthesia-Rule.aspx

Colorado Medical Society v. John Hickenlooper and Colorado Association of Nurse Anesthetist, Colorado Nurse Association and Colorado Hospital Association, No. 11CA1005 COA (July 19, 2012),  available at http://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/Court_Of_Appeals/Opinion/2012/11CA1005-PD.pdf.

California Society of Anesthesiologists v. California Association of Nurse Anesthetists, No. CPF-10-510191 San Francisco City & County Superior. Ct. (March 15, 2012), available at http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/A131049.PDF.

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

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

Doctor or Nurse, Please, Please, Please: Talk to an Attorney Before You Talk to an Investigator

Despite mailing out hundreds of thousands of postcards and letters to physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and psychologists  throughout Florida, we continue to receive calls from new clients and from potential clients, after they have already spoken to and made critical harmful admissions against their own interests to investigators.  In Florida, you do not have any duty to cooperate with any investigator who is investigating you.  This extends to Department of Health (DOH) investigators (who are sometimes titled “Medical Quality Assurance Investigators” or “Medical Malpractice Investigators“), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, or criminal investigators of any type.

Let me state this as succinctly and clearly as possible.  If you are being investigated, you will not be better off making a statement.  You will not be better off explaining your side of the story.  The investigator is not your friend.  The investigator is not on your side.  All you are doing is falling for a trick and helping the government to make a case against you.

You have a right under the U.S. Constitution to not make any statement that may be used against you.  This is so important that in criminal cases government investigators are required to advise you of this by reciting to you your Miranda rights.

However, in cases where you might have your medical license revoked or have your nursing license revoked or have your DEA number revoked or lose your Medicare provider status or your Medicaid provider status, the investigator is not required to advise you of your rights.

In a criminal case, there may be ways to have your statement thrown out.  However, in a professional licensing case or other administrative case, it may be too late to avoid the damage.  You may be the best witness the government has and you may be the only witness the government needs to prove ths case against you.

In the case where you could receive a $100 criminal fine, the investigators are required to read you your constitutional Miranda rights and to be sure that you understand them before you make a statement.  However, in a case where you can lose your professional license, where you could lose your livelihood and ability to make a living, where you could lose everything you have worked so hard to obtain, they are not required to do this.  You must protect yourself.

Many health professionals, when confronted by an investigator, who will usually call at a very inconvenient time (to catch you by surprise) and will usually flash a badge (to intimidate you), will refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the matter and will fall for the bait to “tell their side of the story.”  This can be fatal to your defense and fatal to your license.

In the absence of a statement by the suspect (in this case, let’s assume this is YOU), the government may have a very difficult time of proving that you have committed any offense.  It may have other witnesses (who may not be around at the time of any hearing or trial).  It may have a lot of physical evidence or documents.  But it may be impossible for the government investigators to make any link between you and the evidence, unless you help the investigators do this.  You would be surprised at how many health professionals believe that they can just talk their way out of the situation;  in reality, they are just giving evidence that is used to make the case against them.

Any evidence at all, just admitting that you were there, admitting that the documents are yours, admitting that the patient was yours, admitting that you worked at the clinic, admitting that you wrote the prescription, admitting that the property is yours, admitting that you were on duty at the time, admitting that you have taken a drug, admitting that you signed the form, can be a crucial piece of evidence that could not otherwise be proven without your own testimony.

Remember, this is the investigators’ job and profession.  This is what they do full time, every day.  And they are very good at it.  They are 1,000 times better at getting you to admit the crucial elements of a disciplinary infraction than you are in “talking your way out of it.”  They will not be convinced by any excuses you make.  They do not have to be. They will not be the ones making the final decision against you.  Theirs is the job of putting together the case against you.  You will help them by talking to them, explaining why your decisions are correct, explaining why what you did is excusable, etc.  It will not work.  You will merely be giving them enough rope to hang you with.

Hint: If it is a Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) special agent (investigator), you are probably under investigation for Medicaid fraud.

Hint: If it is an “auditor,” “surveyor” or “investigator” from an agency or company with “integrity” or “program integrity” in its name, they are probably investigating you for “lack of integrity,” i.e., false claims or fraud.

Hint: If it is a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent (investigator) they are probably investigating you to prosecute you or to revoke your DEA registration for drug or prescribing violations.

Hint: If it is an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) special agent (investigator), you are probably under investigation for Medicare fraud or Medicare false claims.

Hint: If it is a Department of Health Quality Assurance Investigator or Medical Malpractice Investigator, they are probably only investigating possible disciplinary action against your license that could result in large administrative fines or revocation of your license.

Do not believe for a second that you are smarter than the investigator.  Do not believe for a second that you will convince the investigator (or anyone else) that there is a legal or medical justification for what you did or what they allege.  If it were as simple as that, then why would there be an investigation and why would you be the one being investigated?

Additionally, do not believe for a second that you can lie your way out of it, either.  Remember, if the government cannot prove the basic offense that it is investigating against you, it may be able to prove that you have committed perjury or lied to an investigator.  In the case of a federal official or a federal investigation, merely making a false statement (oral or written) to an investigator is a criminal act.  This is what Martha Stewart and many others have served time for in federal prisons.

These investigators are lied to all the time.  They are usually better at detecting lies than a polygraph expert is.  Furthermore, in most cases, you will be the very last person to be interviewed.  Therefore, they will already know just about everything that can be used against you.  If your statement contradicts in any way what others have told them, they will know you are the one who is lying.  However, knowing something or suspecting something does not mean it will be something that can be proven in court or in an administrative hearing.

It is much better to make no statement at all.  Blame it on your attorney.  Tell the investigator that your attorney will kill you if you were to talk to the investigator without your attorney being there ahead of time.  “Speak to my attorney.”  “My attorney can help you, I can’t.”

All you have to do is state “I must talk to my lawyer before I say anything.”  “I will have my lawyer contact you.”  “I cannot say anything until I talk to my lawyer.”  “I want a lawyer.”

If you are not the one being investigated, then there is no good reason why the investigator would want you to make a statement before you consulted with your attorney.  What is the rush?

Then you must also avoid the old trick of the investigator telling you “If you don’t have anything to hide, why would you need a lawyer?”  Please don’t fall for this trick, either.  This is America.  Smart people and rich people spend a lot of money on attorneys and other professionals to represent them and advise them.  There is a good reason why they do this.

Far too often the health professional only calls us after he has given a statement.  This is usually too late to avoid much of the damage that will have been be caused.

Everything above applies to oral statements or written statements.  Do not make either.  Contact a lawyer as soon as possible, preferably before making any statement, no matter how simple, defensive, self-serving or innocuous you may think it to be.

Think of this as an intelligence test.  Are you smart enough to follow this guidance and avoid this type of mistake?

For more information about investigations and other legal matters, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Nurses: Advanced Practice May Mean Advanced Legal Issues

From George Indest’s Nursing Law Manual

The advanced nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who has completed some form of advanced nursing education and training.  Two types of advanced nurses are the advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) and the certified nurse specialist.  In Florida, there are three types of certified nurse specialists: certified registered nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners.  The potential risk of liability for an advanced nurse is as real as the risks for any other nurse.  In addition to all of the legal issues that a registered nurse is faced with, the advanced nurse is susceptible to even more legal issues.

Advanced nurses are held to higher standards of care than RNs or licensed practical nurses (LPNs) because of the higher degree of education and training that an advanced nurse is required undergo.  Advanced nurses are required to meet further certification requirements in order to become licensed.  The additional certification requirements were established because advanced nurses have a much broader scope of practice than RNs or LPNs.

An advanced nurse is held to all of the same duties and standards as a RN, as well as additional duties that are placed on the advanced nurse because of advanced training.  A failure to uphold the duties of a nurse can lead to the same consequences that a registered nurse could face, including action being taken by the Board of Nursing against the nurses license.

Advanced Registered Nurse Practioner (ARNP)

In Florida, an advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) can only perform medical acts of diagnosis, treatment and operation under the supervision of a Florida-licensed medical doctor, osteopathic physician, or dentist.

The Board of Nursing, has established rules, pursuant to Florida Statutes, which regulate the requirements for a protocol between a physician or a dentist and an ARNP.  The protocol must be in writing and signed by both the ARNP and the physician or dentist, showing a mutual agreement between the parties.  The protocol must also include a description of the duties of the ARNP;  a description of the duties of the physician or dentist;  the management areas for which the ARNP is responsible, including the conditions for which therapies may be initiated and the treatments that may be initiated by the ARNP, depending on patient condition and judgment of the ARNP;  and the drug therapies that the ARNP may prescribe, initiate, monitor, alter, or order.  The protocol must include a provision for annual review by the parties which are privy to the protocol

In addition, the original protocol must be submitted to the Board within thirty days of the renewal of the ARNP’s license.  A copy of the protocol and a copy of the notice required by Section 458.348(1), Florida Statutes, shall be kept at the site of practice of each party to the protocol.  Any alterations to the protocol or amendments should be signed by the ARNP and the physician, or dentists and filed with the Board within 30 days of the alteration to be kept in the Department of Health for filing purposes only.  Specific conditions and a procedure for identifying those conditions that require direct evaluation or specific consultation by the physician or dentist must be contained within the protocol.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA)

Administration of anesthesia by a certified registered nurse anesthetists requires special training and certification.  Oversight and availability of an anesthesiologist is required by most organizations.  The major risks for registered nurse anesthetists include the improper placement of an airway, failure to recognize significant changes in a patient’s condition and the improper use of anesthetics.

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

A nurse practitioner, NP, is a registered nurse who has completed the necessary education to engage in primary health care decision making.  A physician may not delegate a task to a NP when regulations specify that the physician must perform it personally or when the delegation is prohibited by state law or by an organizations own policies.  A NP who practices outside of her scope of practice can be sanctioned by the Department of Health and if an injury occurs to a patient that NP can be civilly liable to the patient.

Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM)

Nurse midwives provide comprehensive prenatal care including delivery for patients who are at low risk for complications.  Nurse midwives manage normal prenatal, intrapartum and postnatal care.  In addition, nurse midwives will care for newborns as long as there are no complications.  Nurse midwives also provide primary care for women’s issues from puberty to post menopause.  The standard of care for a certified nurse midwife is that of a reasonably prudent certified nurse midwife engaged in the practice obstetrics and gynecology.

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH (DOH) INVESTIGATION

One of the biggest mistakes an advanced nurse makes when being investigated by the Department of Health, DOH, is failing to forward a complete copy of the patient medical record when subpoenaed by the DOH investigator as part of the investigation process.  If the advanced nurse does not make an objection to the DOH investigators request for a copy of a patient’s medical record, he or she is required to forward the medical record to the investigator.  A failure to comply with this can lead to further disciplinary action against a nurse’s license.
For more information about nursing law, or to read more from the Nursing Law Manual, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Nurses Rx: Medication Administration

From George Indest’s Nursing Law Manual

Nurses face a busy schedule often including a long list of patients and extensive work hours. As a result, they can become overworked and overtired, which may lead to mistakes when carrying out essential job duties like administering medication. An Institute of Medicine (IOM) report titled To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System (IOM, Dec. 1999) states the deaths from medication errors that take place both in and out of hospitals, more than 7,000 annually, exceed those from workplace injuries. In a separate report, investigation by the Chicago-Tribune states that since 1995, at least 1,720 hospital patients have died and 9,548 others have been injured because of mistakes made by RN’s across the country (Associated Press, Sept. 10, 2000).

Because nurses are usually the front-line health care providers who are required to administer medications prescribed by physicians (and often the most potent medications to critically ill patients), they must be especially careful in their procedures and practices to avoid one of the many types of common medication errors. The most common types of medication errors include:

1. similar sounding medication name;

2. administration without a prescription;

3. the wrong medication;

4. the wrong dosage;

5. negligent injection;

6. failure to note an order change;

7. failure to administer medication;

8. failure to discontinue medication;

9. use of an unsterile needle;

10. the wrong patient;

11. allergic reactions; and

12. failure to assure patient taking medications.

Nurses are required to handle and administer a vast variety of drugs that are prescribed by physicians and dispensed by an organization’s pharmacy. Medications may range from aspirin to esoteric drugs that are administered through intravenous solutions. These medications must be administered in the prescribed manner and dose to prevent serious harm to patients.

There are a variety of ways to ensure that, as a nurse, you are helping to prevent medication errors within your facility. Use this checklist from George Indest’s Nursing Law Manual in order to maintain safe administration procedures.

Nurses are exempted from the various pharmacy statutes when administering a medication on the oral or written order of a physician. However, the improper administration of medications can lead to malpractice suits.

ADMINISTRATION OF CONTROLLED MEDICATIONS WITHOUT A PRESCRIPTION

A nurse should never administer prescription medications without a valid prescription or order from a physician. In effect, doing that constitutes practicing medicine without a medical license and is beyond the scope of a nurse’s license. Administering medications without approval may give rise to legal liability and disciplinary action against the nurse.

ADMINISTERING THE WRONG MEDICATION

The injection of the wrong medication into a patient can lead to civil liability or to a charge of substandard nursing care made to the Department of Health. A nurse who prepares medication for a physician is liable for the preparation of that medication. A physician can blame a nurse who fails to prepare the medication properly in order to escape liability.

In the case of Ambercrombie v. Roof, a solution was prepared by a nurse employee and injected into the patient by a physician, 28 N.E. 2d 772 (Ohio 1940). The physician made no examination of the fluid, and the patient suffered permanent injuries as a result of the infection. An action was brought against the physician for malpractice. The patient claimed that the fluid injected into her was alcohol and that the physician should have recognized its distinctive odor. The court, in finding for the physician, stated that the physician was not responsible for the misuse of drugs prepared by the hospital, unless the ordinarily prudent use of his faculties would have prevented injury to the patient.

GIVING THE WRONG DOSAGE

A nurse is responsible for making an inquiry if there is uncertainty about the accuracy of a physician’s medication order in a patient’s record. A nurse who is in doubt about a physician’s orders should contact that physician and seek clarification of their order.

WRONG ROUTE

The nurse in Fleming v Baptist General Convention, 742 P.2d 1087 (Okla. 1987), negligently injected the patient with a solution of Talwin and Atarax subcutaneously, rather than intramuscularly. The patient suffered tissue necrosis as a result of the improper injection. The suit against the hospital was successful. On appeal, the court held that the jury’s verdict for the plaintiff found adequate support in the testimony of the plaintiff’s expert witness on the issues of nursing negligence and causation.

FAILURE TO NOTE AN ORDER CHANGE

A nurse’s failure to review a patient’s record before administering a medication, to ascertain whether an order has been modified, may render a nurse liable for negligence.

FAILURE TO ADMINISTER MEDICATION

In Kallenberg v. Beth Israel Hospital, 357 N.Y. S.2d 508 (N.Y. App. Div. 1974), a patient died after her third cerebral hemorrhage because of the failure of the physicians and staff to administer necessary medications. When the patient was admitted to the hospital, her physician determined that she should be given a ceratin drug to reduce her blood pressure and make her condition operable. For some unexplained reason, the drug was not administered. The patient’s blood pressure rose, and after a hemorrhage, she died. The jury found the hospital and physicians negligent in failing to administer the drug and ruled that the negligence had caused the patient’s death. The appellate court found that the jury had sufficient evidence to decide that the negligent treatment had been the cause of the patient’s death.

FAILURE TO DISCONTINUE A MEDICATION

A health care organization will be held liable if a nurse continues to inject a solution into a patient after noticing its ill effects. Once something is observed to be wrong with the administration of the medication, the nurse has a duty to discontinue its use.

NONSTERILE NEEDLE

The blood donor in Brown v. Shannon West Texas Memorial Hospital, 222 S.W. 2d 248 (Tex. 1949), sought to recover from a serious injury allegedly caused by the use of a nonsterile needle. The court held that the burden of proof was on the plaintiff to show, by competent evidence, that the needle was contaminated when used and that it was the proximate cause of the alleged injury. The mere proof, said the court, that infection followed the use of the needle or that the infection possible could be attributed to the use of an unsterile needle was insufficient. If the plaintiff had been able to prove the needle was not sterile, then the plaintiff would have recovered damages.

WRONG PATIENT

It is of utmost importance to check each patient’s name bracelet before administering any medication. To ensure that the patient’s identity corresponds to the name on the patient’s bracelet, the nurse should address the patient by name when approaching the patient’s bedside to administer any medication. Especially in nursing homes and hospitals where there may be more than one patient in a room, this is exceptionally important. Should the nurse unwittingly administer one patient’s medication to a different patient, the attending physician should be notified and appropriate documentation placed on the patient’s chart.

ALLERGIC REACTIONS

Any adverse reactions to a medication should be charted on the patient’s medical record. The attending physician and the facility’s pharmacy should be advised as to the patient’s allergic reaction.

FAILURE TO MONITOR AND ENSURE PATIENT TAKING MEDICATIONS

A nurse normally has a duty to monitor and ensure that a patient is taking their medications. A failure to perform this act can lead to nursing negligence on the part of the nurse.

THE “SEVEN RIGHTS” OF PATIENT MEDICATION

There is a checklist every nurse should learn called the “Seven Rights of Medication.” If this checklist is memorized and followed in every case, medication errors would be significantly reduced or eliminated altogether. Every nurse and nursing student should memorize this list and go through it in her mind every time a patient is administered a medication by the nurse.

Always check for and confirm:

1. The right medication;

2. The right patient;

3. The right dose;

4. The right time;

5. The right route;

6. The right reason; and

7. The right documentation;

The nurse may be the last wall of defense to protect a patient from a medication error. The nurse should avoid at all costs, being rushed, tired, inattentive, sloppy, or lazy. Guard at every turn against medication errors. For more information about nursing law, or to read more from the Nursing Law Manual, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Nurses: Insuring Your Legal Protection

Though many nurses pursue a career in nursing hoping that they will never face disciplinary charges, any number of events not in a nurse’s control can lead to an investigation or administrative action. Nurses need to make sure they are covered if this ever occurs, with appropriate insurance.

The primary reason that a nurse should purchase a professional liability insurance policy is that this type of insurance usually includes coverage for legal defense of licensing and disciplinary action commenced against a nurse.

License defense coverage pays the legal fees and costs associated with defending a nurse when an investigation is initiated that may result in action against her nursing license or disciplinary action against the nurse. Coverage is usually available from the time the nurse receives written notice that an investigation by a state agency has been initiated. It will also cover formal complaints made against the nurse, informal hearings before the Board of Nursing, and formal administrative hearings before an administrative law judge.

Such investigations, complaints, and administrative action may be opened based on events including patient complaints, hotline calls, Code 15 reports, nursing home and home health agency surveys, abuse investigations by the Department of Children and Families (DCF), newspaper articles, copies of lawsuits, and many other sources. It is far more likely that a nurse will be involved in one of these types of actions than being sued for nursing negligence.

Professional liability policies, which provide coverage for licensure defense, will usually provide compensation to the nurse for her out-of-pocket expenses (travel, postage, etc.) that she herself incurs, as well as lost wages because of working time missed for hearings, depositions, etc. However, the maximum coverage available under such policies for licensure defense is usually limited. to between $10,000 and $15,000. This amount will usually be sufficient to provide for most of the legal fees and costs involved in defense of such a case.

Does Vicarious Liability Actually Absolve the Nurse From Liability?

The assumption that vicarious liability or the legal doctrine of respondeat superior protects a nurse against a medical negligence claim is a mistaken one. If the employer provides legal representation, the attorney representing the nurse will almost always be the same attorney representing and being paid by the hospital or employer.

In many circumstances, the nurse may conclude that her interests are contrary to those of the hospital or employer, which could result in the attorney hired by the hospital withdrawing from further representation of the nurse. Additionally, it may be necessary for the nurse to raise evidence showing that the injury was caused by another nurse or hospital employee, in order to defend herself. It is doubtful that an attorney representing the employer or hospital would raise this defense since it would prove liability against the employer hospital.

Many employers will not provide legal representation if the matter involves licensing or disciplinary action against the nurse. This could force the nurse to fund all the fees and costs associated with her defense. However, some larger corporations with good risk management programs will provide the nurse with legal representation for such matters.

If you are an agency nurse, a home health agency nurse, a nursing home nurse, an independent duty nurse, or you are not employed by a large hospital chain, then you should consider nursing liability insurance mandatory. It appears that complaints of negligence against nurses working in these positions are far more likely. This may be because of the high turnover of nurses in some types of healthcare facilities (such as nursing homes), or because the nurse is no longer employed at the facility when the investigation begins (for example, in the case of an agency nurse). Additionally, agency nurses may only work in facility for a short period of time making them less familiar with the facility’s policies and procedures, and not a part of the permanent team of nurses who may have established relationships with each other and are more likely to cover for each other.

As previously mentioned, a number of different proceedings may be covered by the licensure defense coverage provided in professional liability insurance. These proceedings may include an investigation by the Department of Health based on a patient complaint or Code 15 report; an abuse investigation (abuse of a child, abuse of a developmentally disabled or vulnerable person, or abuse of an elderly person) by the Department of Children and Families (DCF); allegations of nursing negligence or abuse being investigated by a state “surveyor” by the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA); an investigation into allegations of Medicaid over-billing or fraud; an investigation by the Agency for Health Care Administration or on the Attorney General’s State-wide Medicaid Task Force; and allegations of improper Medicare billing or fraud.

A nurse might be involved in a Medicaid fraud investigation, for example, in the case of an Advance Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) or Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) who has her own provider identification number and is allowed to bill as part of a group practice or independently. This might also occur, for example, in the case of a nurse working for a home health agency which receives its reimbursement for the nurse’s services from Medicare or Medicaid.

Cost of Professional Liability Coverage is Minimal

Nurses can purchase liability coverage rather inexpensively. For example, an excellent insurance policy providing coverage for nurses is available through the Nurses Service Organization (N.S.O.) for less than $100 per year. Professional liability coverage provided by this type of insurance represents a bargain at these rates.

Focusing on Protecting the Nurse’s Individual Interests

Perhaps most importantly, the nurse should have an attorney focusing on her interests only in defending her against any type of negligence or licensing complaint. A nurse with her own professional liability insurance coverage will be able to hire a separate, independent attorney, and often the insurer will allow her to pick her own attorney.

Important Considerations When Purchasing Liability Protection

When deciding on which professional liability insurance to purchase, the nurse should inquire as to the extent of coverage for licensing in disciplinary defense coverage. Some professional liability insurers have a “broad form” of coverage which may provide legal defense for the nurse in almost any type of administrative action. This might include, for example, defense of a discrimination complaint filed against the nurse with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and for Medicare and Medicaid complaints. Other companies limit coverage to only actions that may result in disciplinary action against the nurse’s license. The nurse should always attempt to get the broadest coverage available for disciplinary defense and licensure defense coverage.

Additionally, the nurse should inquire as to whether or not she will be allowed to select her own attorney. Many insurance companies have contracts with certain law firms to provide legal services on their cases for a reduced fee. The insurance company may require you to use one of its own contracted attorneys, or even one of its in-house attorneys which it employs directly. Given the limited number of attorneys with experience at handling nursing law issues and trying malpractice cases, the nurse should attempt to obtain coverage through a company which allows her to choose her own attorney.

The most important reason to purchase professional liability insurance is for the licensure defense coverage. A nurse does not want to risk losing her nursing license because she was unsuccessful at defending an investigation against her license or did not have the resources to do so. Since there are far more complaints filed each year against nurses’ licenses than here are nursing malpractice lawsuits, it is far more likely that a working nurse will need legal defense of a licensure complaint investigation.

For more information about the legal needs of nurses visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Former Texas Official Sentenced for Retaliation Against Nurses

According to ABC News, Scott Tidwell, a former West Texas county attorney, will serve four months in jail and 10 years of probation for retaliating against two nurses.

The nurses filed an anonymous complaint to state medical regulators against a doctor who used herbal remedies and hospital supplies to perform at-home procedures. The doctor then ordered a friend, a county sheriff at the time, to investigate the complaint, which resulted in the nurses being fired from their jobs and charged with felonies.

Tidwell acted as the prosecutor in the trial against one of the nurses. She was acquitted, and the charges against the other nurse were dropped.

Tidwell is not the only player in this case who is suffering from involvement. The Texas Medical Board found that the doctor tried to intimidate the nurses and placed him on probation for four years. He has also been charged with aggravated perjury and two counts each of retaliation and misuse of official information.

Earlier this year, a law was passed that adds protection from retaliation for nurses who advocate for patients. This bill allows nurses to report unsafe care with immunity from criminal liability.

Nurses and other health care professionals need this kind of legislation to allow them to fulfill their responsibilities to their patients. Without legal protection, health care professionals cannot be assured that there won’t be repercussions for acting on concerns. If our health care professionals are not protected, the care and safety of patients is compromised.

For more information about legal matters involved in nursing, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or read the Nursing Law Manual.