Category Archives: Informal Hearings

Wow! Did You Know That There Were All of These Different Medical and Dental Examination and Specialty Boards out There?

Patricia's Photos 013By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Did you know there are many different medically-related examination and specialty boards out there screening applicants’ credentials and administering national examinations required for licensure? What is more, if an applicant is accused of some type of wrongdoing by that board (which may include allegations of “irregular behavior or conduct,” “cheating,” “compromising examination materials,” or other similar allegations) each has different procedures and appeals for handling investigations.


Types Of Medical Specialty Boards.

I have recently had to advise clients on or become involved in hearings or appeals for:

  • The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG);
  • The National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners (NBOME);
  • The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE);
  • The National Board of Pediatric Medical Examiners (NBPME);
  • The National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME);
  • The Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations (JCNDE)
    (which administers the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE));
  • The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP);
  • The American Board of Internal Medicine; and the
  • American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABO+G).

These are just the recent ones and don’t count the regular medical specialty boards about which we routinely consult clients.


The Intricacies of These Types of Boards.

Some of the boards don’t even have hearing procedures or appeal procedures set forth in a written policy or handbook. This makes it somewhat challenging to dispute an adverse decision against a client.

Nevertheless, because we have had such broad experience with such different boards, we are able to synthesize and extrapolate from the experiences we have had to obtain favorable results for clients, even when we are called upon to deal with a board with which we have not previously dealt.


Comments?

Were you aware that such specific boards existed? Do you have any experience or personal insight with any of these boards? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.


Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Health Professionals and Providers.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health providers in accusations of disruptive behavior, Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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


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

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 © 1999-2015 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

 

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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.

Florida Dentist Hit with an Emergency Suspension Order for Allegedly Inhaling Nitrous Oxide

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

A Debary, Florida, dentist has been served with an emergency suspension order (ESO) by the Florida Department of Health (DOH) for allegedly inhaling nitrous oxide or laughing gas in front of patients. The administrative complaint filed against the dentist on November 2, 2012, by the Florida DOH stated a department-approved evaluator deemed the dentist unfit to practice dentistry and was recommended to undergo residential treatment.

Click here to read the full administrative complaint against the dentist.

We want to point out that these are just allegations made against the dentist at this point in time and have not been proven by the state.

Dentist Allegedly Ordered to Rehabilitation.

In June 2012, the Florida DOH ordered the dentist to be treated for alcohol and inhalant dependence. However, while in rehabilitation, she allegedly failed drug tests for alcohol, opiates and hydrocodone. She was then later reportedly caught inhaling laughing gas again.

The dentist allegedly refused another treatment plan by writing on it that she was going to drink champagne on holidays and special occasions.

ESO Means Health Professional Cannot Practice While License is Suspended.

On November 27, 2012, WFTV in Orlando reported a woman that looked to be the suspended dentist drove up to the Debary office and posted a handwritten sign on the front door that read, “Office is open.”

To see the story from WFTV, click here.

The Florida DOH states that when a licensee is served with an ESO that person may not practice in Florida while his or her license is suspended. Click here to see the status of the dentist’s license from the DOH.

Formal vs Informal Hearings.

The dentist may elect to have a formal hearing contesting the facts with the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH). She also may waive this right and not dispute the facts and have an informal hearing before the Board of Dentistry.  The Board will then make a final decision concerning the dentist’s license and her future working in dentistry. Be sure to check this blog for updates.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Department of Health (DOH) Investigations of Dentists.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to dentists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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

Comments?

What do you think of this dentist’s story? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Sources:

Walsh, Michael. “Dentist Gassing Up on Nitrous Oxide No Laughing Matter.” New York Daily News. (November 27, 2012). From: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/dentist-gassing-nitrous-oxide-laughing-matter-article-1.1209081?print

Barber, Tim. “Dentist Accused of Using Laughing Gas on Self While Working on Patients.” WFTV. (November 27, 2012). From: http://www.wftv.com/news/news/local/dentist-accused-using-laughing-gas-while-operating/nTGJd/

Department of Health v. Sharon Ann Day-Osteen, D.D.S. Case Number 2012-13461. Administrative Complaint to the Board of Dentistry. (November 2, 2012). From: http://www.thehealthlawfirm.com/uploads/doh%20v%20Day-Osteen.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.

The Collateral Effects of Voluntary Relinquishment with Investigation Pending or other Discipline on Your Massage Therapy License

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

Many massage therapists are unaware of the drastic long-term effects that discipline on their massage therapist license could have. This includes submitting a voluntary relinquishment of the massage therapist’s license while there is an investigation pending or while there are charges pending. Although this particular article is being prepared specifically for massage therapists, similar principles apply to physicians, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, dentists, mental health counselors and other licensed health professionals.

A voluntary relinquishment of the license after notice of the opening of an investigation or while a charge is pending is treated the same as a disciplinary revocation of the license. It is reported out the same and is treated the same. In some cases it may even be worse, if the agreement to voluntarily relinquish also includes an agreement to never apply for another license again.

Even discipline on the massage therapy license such as a suspension, probation, restrictions, etc., can have far-lasting adverse repercussions. Most people do not understand what else can happen as a result of a discipline, revocation or even voluntary relinquishment (under these circumstances).

Reports to National Organizations on the Discipline.

First and foremost, the discipline (including voluntary relinquishment) will be a public record. It will also be reported out to national reporting agencies, including the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB).

As a result of the report to the NPDB, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will probably start action to exclude the disciplined therapist from the Medicare Program and place him or her on the OIG’s List of Excluded Individual’s and Entities (LEIE). This will bar you from the Medicare Program or working for or contracting with anyone else who does (including insurer’s medical clinics and most health care providers). This by itself will also have many negative consequences. For example, if you are excluded from the Medicare Program you are automatically placed on the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) “debarred” list. You are automatically excluded from working for or contracting with, in any capacity, any organization, individual or agency that has any government contracts or accepts any federal funding. This act can bar you from working for a public school, working as a real estate agent, or many other jobs.

The NCBTMB will also take action to revoke your national certification given by the NCBTMB. This will exclude you from being licensed in any other state.

Summary of Adverse Consequences of Revocation or Other Discipline.

To summarize, the most important adverse problems that may be caused as a result of discipline on your license, may include the following:

1. May cause discipline to be commenced against any other health professional license you have, such as a nurse, acupuncture physician, chiropractic assistant, nurse’s aide, home health assistant, etc.

2. Will prevent you from obtaining any health professional license in the future.

3. May cause discipline to be commenced against any massage therapy establishment license for a massage therapy establishment you own in whole or in part.

4. Any other states or jurisdictions in which you have a license will also initiate action against him or her in that jurisdiction.

5. The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) will also take action to revoke your national certification given by the NCBTMB. This will exclude you from being licensed in any other state and will cause any other state in which you are licensed to take action against you.

6. Mandatory report to the National Practitioner Data Base (NPDB)), which remains there for 50 years. (Note: Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank or HIPDB recently folded into NPDB.)

7. The OIG of HHS will take action to exclude the provider from the Medicare Program. If this occurs, (and most of these offenses require mandatory exclusion) the provider will be placed on the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) maintained by the OIG HHS.

8. If the above occurs, the provider is also automatically “debarred” or prohibited from participating in any capacity in any federal contracting and is placed on the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) debarment list.

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

10. Regardless of any of the above, any facility licensed by AHCA (hospitals, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), public health clinics, group homes for the developmentally disabled, etc.) that are required to perform background screenings on their employees will result in AHCA notifying the facility and the professional that he or she is disqualified from employment.

What Can be Done?

If you have submitted a voluntary relinquishment without understanding the consequences, and the Board of Massage Therapy (“Board”) has not acted to accept it, you may withdraw it. What we do is submit a letter to the Executive Director of the Board stating it was submitted by mistake without fully understanding the consequences, and the massage therapist desires to withdraw the voluntary relinquishment. We submit this immediately (keeping a copy, of course) and by certified mail, return receipt requested, so we have proof of sending and proof of receipt.

However, you must also ask for a formal hearing to dispute the facts in your case, as well. We usually do this at the same time and by the same method. If you fail to request a formal hearing, then you are waiving your rights to challenge your guilt or innocence.

If you have requested an informal hearing, you have made a big mistake. For an informal hearing, you admit that everything stated in the complaint against you is true. You have admitted that all of the charges against you are correct, so you are pleading guilty to the charges. You are then giving up the right to have a hearing to determine whether you are really guilty or innocent. All you are going to be arguing about is the punishment you will receive. You will not be allowed to testify on or introduce any evidence on your guilt or innocence.

If you have submitted a request for an informal hearing, not realizing this, then what we usually do is to submit an immediate request to have the hearing changed over to a formal administrative hearing where you are allowed to dispute the facts against you and prove your innocence. In such a case, it is necessary to submit a Petition for a Formal Administrative Hearing and to specify which facts are contested or disputed and why.

The case is then sent to a neutral administrative law judge (ALJ) to hold a hearing on the case. The state Department of Health (DOH) (the parent agency over the Board of Massage Therapy) is then required to prove the facts against you by clear and convincing evidence. In fact, you do not even have to introduce any evidence or testimony, the burden of proof is on the DOH to prove the case against you.

Emergency Suspension Orders (ESOs), Appeals and Election of Rights (EOR) Forms.

In Florida, if you have an Emergency Suspension Order (ESO), you can appeal it to a court of appeal. The problem with this is that it is very technical to do so and is very costly. Call an attorney who specializes in appeals or appellate law and ask. Additionally, the court of appeal only rules on the law and not the facts. The appeal court will be required to accept everything that is stated in the ESO as true. There is no fact hearing, there are only legal arguments. Your basic case will be delayed while this takes place, and you will probably lose on appeal. This may not be the correct choice for you.

However, if there is an ESO, you also have the right to an expedited fact hearing on it. This may be the best course of action if you have documents and facts to show you are not guilty of the charges.

Furthermore, there will also be an additional document served on you, an administrative complaint (AC). When you receive the AC, it will probably say just about the same thing as the ESO. You will be given your hearing rights when this occurs (called an “Election of Rights” form or “EOR”). As we indicated above, you will almost always want to select a formal administrative hearing in which you dispute (challenge or contest) the allegations (charges) made against you. This is the only way you will have the right to have a full and fair hearing on your innocence of the charges. Make sure it is submitted in plenty of time to be received within the 21 days given. Seek legal advice in completing it. Do not admit to anything; you don’t have to as the state DOH has the burden of proof.

The Need for an Experienced Health Law Attorney.

It is very difficult to take the actions necessary yourself if you do not have any legal training. Nonlawyers make many stupid mistakes in these proceedings, including submitting written statements that can be used against them when they do not have to do so, talking to the DOH investigator or Board personnel, talking to the DOH prosecuting attorney, making admissions which can be used against them, and waiving their rights when they do not have to do so.

Most attorneys are not familiar with these types of procedures if they do not practice health law. They do not realize that the same rights which apply in criminal cases also apply to professional licensure cases. You need to find and hire an attorney experienced in this type of case. That would be a health law attorney, and preferably one who is Board Certified by the Florida Bar in Health Law.

What You Should Do.

So the bottom line is that if you are innocent and want to dispute any charges against you, you should:

1. If you have professional insurance coverage, such as HPSO Insurance, see if your insurance will cover your legal defense expenses in this type of case. Many will. We know HPSO will.

2. Act right away to request all of your rights in any matter. Make sure that anything you submit is actually received (not mailed, received) before the deadline given.

3. Do not call, write or speak to the DOH investigator, Board personnel, DOH personnel or the DOH attorney.

4. Do not make a statement, written or oral, to the DOH investigator, Board personnel, DOH personnel or the DOH attorney.

5. Contest (dispute or fight) every action that might be stated against you, including one by the NCBTMB or OIG.

6. Do not admit to anything you don’t have to as the state DOH has the burden of proof.

7. Keep copies of all forms or letters submitted, along with proof of mailing and proof of receipt (send via certified mail, return receipt requested).

8. Retain the services of a health lawyer who has experience in Board of Massage Therapy/Department of Health (DOH) cases (ask him or her how many he or she has actually done). DO THIS FIRST, NOT LAST!

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Department of Health (DOH) Investigations of Massage Therapists.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to massage therapists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, licensing matters and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

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

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

Preparing for a Florida Board of Medicine Informal Hearing

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

If you are scheduled to appear for an informal hearing before the Florida Board of Medicine, 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 Medicine itself for a very limited number of reasons.  These will include the following:

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

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

What an Informal Administrative Hearing Is Not

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

Formal Administrative Hearing vs. Informal Hearing

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for an Informal Hearing

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

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

Other Little Known Facts to Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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