Category Archives: Mental Health

How to Prepare for an Informal Hearing Before the Florida Board of Psychology

6 Indest-2008-3By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M. Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

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

Limited Circumstances for Informal Administrative Hearing.

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

1. If you completed an election of rights (EOR) form and agreed that you did not intend to dispute any material facts alleged against you from the administrative complaint (AC) in the case.

2. If you entered into a settlement agreement (or “stipulation”) (similar to a plea bargain in a criminal case) in which you agreed to accept discipline against your license.

3. You failed to submit any election of rights (EOR) form and failed to file a petition for a formal hearing in a timely manner, and, therefore, you have waived your right to a formal hearing.

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

What an Informal Administrative Hearing Is Not.

1. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to tell your side of the story. You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

2. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to prove that you are innocent of the charges. You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

3. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to introduce documents or evidence to show that someone else committed the offenses charged and you did not. You have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

4. An informal administrative hearing is not an opportunity for you to argue that you should not be in the board’s impaired practitioners program (either the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) or the Intervention Project for Nurses (IPN)) because you have completed a different program or that you do not have a problem. These are the only programs recognized and used and you have agreed that there are no disputed material facts in the case or you would not be at an informal hearing.

Formal Administrative Hearing vs. Informal Hearing.

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

However, because of the technicalities of evidentiary law and administrative law, we do not recommend that a nonlawyer attempt to represent himself or herself at such hearings. You can make technical mistakes (such as answering requests for admissions incorrectly) that severely compromise any defense you may have. We recommend that you always retain the services of an experienced health lawyer in any such matter.
What to Do If You Find That You Are at an Informal Hearing and That You Do Desire to Contest the Material Facts of the Case (And Your Guilt or Innocence)

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

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

Preparing for an Informal Hearing.

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

1. Be sure you know where the hearing is going to be held. Try to stay the night before in the same hotel as the hearing will be held. You will usually have to make these reservations early in order to get a room.

2. Attend a Board meeting that occurs before the one at which your case is scheduled. This will give you a feeling for the procedures that will be followed, will help to make you less nervous when you appear, and you can obtain continuing education units for doing so (be sure to sign in and sign out). Be sure to attend one of the days when the disciplinary hearings are held.

3. Dress professionally for the appearance. This may be the most important event in your professional career. For men, this means a suit and tie or, at least, a dark coat, dark slacks and a necktie. For women, a professional business suit or the equivalent is in order. Do not dress as if you are going to the park, the beach or out on a date. Do not wear sexually provocative or revealing clothing.

4. Check the agenda that is published on line a day or two before the scheduled hearing to make sure that your case is still scheduled for the date and time on the hearing notice. Informal hearings may be moved around on the schedule. Make sure you are there at the earliest time on the hearing notice or agenda.

5. Listen to questions asked of you by Board members and attempt to answer them directly and succinctly. You will be placed under oath for the proceeding and there will be a court reporter present as well as audio recording devices to take everything down.

6. Do not argue with the Board members or lose your temper. This is not the time or place to let this happen. If you have such tendencies, then you should have an attorney there with you who can intercept some of the questions and can make defensive arguments (to the extent that they may be permitted) for you.

7. You may introduce documents and evidence in mitigation. However, you have agreed that the material facts alleged are true, so you may not contest these. In effect, you have pleaded guilty and you are just arguing about how much punishment (discipline) and what kind of punishment you should receive.

8. If you do intend to introduce documents and evidence in mitigation, be sure you know what the mitigating factors are (these are published in a separate board rule in the Florida Administrative Code for each professional board). These may include, for example, the fact that there was no patient harm, that there was no monetary loss, that restitution has been made, the length of time the professional has been practicing, the absence of any prior discipline, etc. You should submit these far ahead of time with a notice of filing, so that they are sent out to the board members with the other materials in your file. This is another reason to have experienced counsel represent you at the informal hearing.

9. Be prepared to take responsibility for your actions. If you are not prepared to take responsibility, then this means you must believe you are innocent and you should be at a formal hearing, not an informal one.

10. Be prepared to explain what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what remedial measures you have taken to prevent a recurrence of this type of event in the future. Show that you have learned from this experience and that you are not going to make the same mistake again.

11. It is our advice to always retain the services of an experienced attorney to represent you at such hearings. Often your professional liability insurance will cover this. If you have professional liability insurance, be sure that it contains a rider or addendum that provides coverage for professional license defense matters and administrative hearings. You need at least $25,000 to $50,000 in coverage for this type of defense. If necessary, you should contact your insurer or insurance agent and have the limits increased for a small additional premium.

Other Little known Facts to Remember.

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

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

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

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

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

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing psychologists in investigations and at Board of Psychology hearings. Call now or visit our website http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

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

Office of Inspector General (OIG) Scrutinizes Billing at South Florida Mental Health Clinics

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

On August 16, 2012, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report on questionable billing by mental health centers. The report focuses on the nation’s mental health clinics that overbilled Medicare in 2010, some by tens of millions of dollars. The majority of these clinics were located in South Florida, Texas and Louisiana.

To see the full report from the OIG, click here.

Two Big Busts in Florida Mental Health Clinics for Medicare Fraud.

According to an article in the Miami Herald: “No area of the country cheats Medicare quite like South Florida.” To see this article from the Miami Herald, click here.

In the report, the OIG specifically named a bust of two Miami-area doctors, one Miami-area therapist and two others for their participation in a Medicare fraud scheme. The case involved the nation’s biggest mental health chain and more than $205 million in fraudulent billing. Executives of the company were sentence in June 2012, to anywhere from 50 years to 91 months.

We previously blogged about this news story. Click here to read that blog. To see a copy of the press release on this case from the Department of Justice (DOJ), click here.

The Miami Herald article outlines the case of another South Florida mental-health clinic. The clinic’s owner, his son, his daughter and five others were found guilty on August 31, 2012, of conspiring to cheat $57 million from the federal program for the elderly and disabled. The owner, his son, an operating officer and another manager were also convicted of conspiracy to commit health care fraud by collecting $11 million in Medicare payments for therapy services that were not needed or provided from 2007 to 2011.

Click here to see the full press release on this case from the DOJ.

OIG Scrutinizes Medicare for Lack of Regulations.

In the report, the Inspector General (IG) said these two instances of Medicare fraud are examples of the federal program’s “vulnerabilities.” The report scrutinizes the Medicare program for it’s lack of regulating about 200 mental health centers in 25 states that received an estimated $218.6 million in 2010.

Medicare Officials Admit Mental Health Services are Susceptible  to Fraud and Abuse.

In the Miami Herald article, Medicare officials responded to the OIG by acknowledging that mental health services have been vulnerable to fraud and abuse in the past, but said Medicare is currently taking steps to address these issues. These steps include adopting a computer program that will screen prospective clinic operators; it will perform criminal background checks and closely examine claims which are paid within 14 days.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late; Consult with a Health Law Attorney Experienced in Medicare and Medicaid Issues Now.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm represent health care providers in Medicare audits, ZPIC audits and RAC audits throughout Florida and across the U.S. They also represent physicians, medical groups, nursing homes, home health agencies, pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare providers and institutions in Medicare and Medicaid investigations, audits, recovery actions and termination from the Medicare or Medicaid Program.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Sources:

Weaver, Jay. “Feds Spotlight South Florida Mental Health Clinics for Medicare Fraud.” The Miami Herald. (August 28, 2012). From: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/08/28/2972637/feds-spotlight-south-floridas.html

Levinson, Daniel. “Questionable Billing By Community Mental Health Centers.” Office of Inspector General. (August 2012). From: /uploads/OIG on Medicare fraud in Mental Health Clinics.pdf

Department of Justice. “Eight Individuals and a Corporation Convicted at Trial in Florida in $50 Million Medicare Fraud.” United States Department of Justice. (August 24, 2012). From: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/August/12-crm-1048.html.

Valle, Alicia. “Doctors, Therapist and Recruiters from Miami-Area Mental Health Care Corporation Convicted for Participating in $205 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme” U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. (June 1, 2012). From: http://www.justice.gov/usao/fls/PressReleases/120601-03.html

About the Authors: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

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.

Legally Speaking: Psychologists, Mental Health Counselors, Social Workers and Therapists

Today begins a multi-part series focusing on the legal matters and needs concerning healthcare professionals, starting with those who practice in the field of psychology, including psychologists, Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHCs), Clinical Social Workers (CSWs) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs).

Supervised by the Board of Psychology and the Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling, psychologists, Licensed Mental Health Counselors, Clinical Social Workers and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists are responsible for an important component of patient care: mental health. Insuring the mental health of a patient does not come without risks.

For this reason, every mental health professional should carry professional liability insurance that includes professional license defense coverage (sometimes called disciplinary defense, license defense, administrative hearing coverage or broad coverage). Most often this type of insurance coverage is included in most professional liability policies; however, if it is not, it can often be added as a rider to the insurance policy for a slight additional charge. Mental health professionals should be sure that coverage for professional license defense is at least $25,000 and a $50,000 increase is recommended.”Broad form coverage” should also be requested and obtained that includes coverage of legal fees for defense of all administrative or governmental proceedings, including Medicare audits, Medicaid audits, EEOC complaints, and other types of governmental actions that could be initiated.

Though mental health may not seem like a high-risk field, if dissatisfied, patients can file complaints that can lead to serious consequences. These complaints can be initiated against a mental health professional based solely on anonymous calls to the Department of Health Hotline, newspaper reports, prior arrest reports, disgruntled patients, disgruntled insurance companies, competitors, or other sources. Once an investigation is initiated psychologists, therapists, counselors and other mental health professionals should obtain legal representation immediately to ensure that each action on the part of the psychologist or other mental health professional will result in a more favorable outcome A board certified health lawyer experienced in representing mental health professionals will be the most qualified to handle a Department of Health case.

A mental health professional may never face a Department of Health investigation or Board of Psychology or Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling administrative hearing, but it is important that every psychologist and counselor has knowledge of current legislation impacting the psychology field. The Florida Statutes  have recently been updated to prohibit anyone from using the title of “social worker” unless certain requirements are met. Additionally, there have been changes made to guidelines for treatment programs for impaired professional and psychologist reporting requirements.

For more information about legal matters concerning mental health professionals, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.