By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
Many massage therapists, when confronted with an investigation against their license, do not fight the charges, sometimes they decide it is cheaper and easier just to give up their license. Either choice is likely to be a mistake.
A charge can be filed causing an investigation to be opened against a massage therapist by many different sources and often without any supporting evidence. If challenged and defended by an attorney with knowledge and experience in such matters, these investigations may often be dismissed with no disciplinary action against the massage therapist’s license.
Massage Therapists Often Go on to Obtain Licenses in Other Health Specialties.
A massage therapist often has to spend tens of thousands of dollars on school tuition and sacrifice a year or more of their lives to meet the basic criteria for licensing. In many cases this is merely a stepping stone for a later degree and license in another healthcare specialty, such as physical therapy, nursing, acupuncture, or chiropractic medicine.
Your Greatest Assets are Your Professional and Personal Reputation.
One of the maxims that the Romans took as truth was: “A good reputation is more valuable than money,” (attributed to Publilius Syrus approximately 100 B.C.). Socrates wrote in approximately 400 B.C.: “Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of.”
However, despite the fact that you may have worked hard, sacrificed and paid a fortune for an education and training in massage therapy, many are willing to sacrifice their personal reputation rather than paying a few thousand dollars to fight unjust charges against them. What they do not realize is the permanent black mark that will be placed on their record and the long term, devastating consequences of any such action.
When Confronted with Charges Most Massage Therapists Do Not Defend Themselves.
It is my opinion, based on what I have seen at Florida Board of Massage Therapy meetings and reviewing Florida Board of Massage Therapy meeting minutes, very few massage therapists, when confronted with an investigation or charges, hire an attorney to defend them. This may be because they do not have the financial resources or because they underestimate the harm that will be caused to their personal or professional reputations.
Regardless, in my personal opinion and experience:
1. Few massage therapists return their election of rights (EOR) forms on time and therefore, a default is entered against them.
2. Few massage therapists return their election of rights (EOR) forms to state they are contesting the facts and desire a formal hearing to contest the charges against them.
3. Few massage therapists even bother to show up at informal hearings involving their licenses.
4. When they do, they show up at a hearing with a spouse or friend to represent them instead of an experienced attorney familiar with such matters (Q: If you needed brain surgery, would you have it performed by a spouse or friend instead of an experienced neurosurgeon?)
5. If they do retain an attorney to advise and represent them, they either go with the cheapest one they can find or go with one who has no experience at all before the Board of Massage Therapy. (Q: If you needed brain surgery, would you pay your family practice physician to perform it?)
Best Advice: Purchase Insurance with Professional License Defense Coverage.
Often physicians and others concerned about liability issues ask our advice on asset protection in case they are sued. We advise them that their best way of protecting their assets is to purchase good insurance that will pay for a legal defense that protects them against unjust law suit. The same principle applies to massage therapists; except that massage therapy insurance is much, much cheaper, and the major liability that a massage therapist will face is usually from a complaint against his or her license.
If you purchase massage therapy liability insurance, you must make sure that it covers defense expenses of a complaint filed against your license. Many such policies do not. Additionally, you should be sure that it provides at least $25,000 in coverage for such matters. This should be sufficient to provide adequate coverage in the event a fully contested formal hearing is required to defend you.
We have seen many policies and they are as different as night and day in this coverage. When purchasing a professional liability policy, always ask about such coverage. Get the coverage stated in writing. To date, the only company we have experienced which is providing such coverage for massage therapists, and at an incredibly low price, is Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO). Compare this with whatever you have now. If you know of others that provide this coverage, I would like to hear from you.
It has been my personal experience that a massage therapist will be 30 or 40 times more likely to need licensure defense coverage as ever to need defense against a civil lawsuit.
Additional Consequences of Discipline on Your Massage Therapy License.
There are many, many additional adverse consequences that you will experience if you receive discipline on (especially revocation of) your massage therapy license. First and foremost, this is on your record forever; it never comes off and cannot be expunged. Additionally, it will be reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) and available anywhere you go in the future in any state, to any licensing board. There are many others. I will detail these in a future blog.
Voluntary Relinquishment after Investigation Has Started Treated as Revocation, the “Death Sentence.”
Many massage therapists believe that the easy and cheap way out if a complaint is filed and an investigation is opened is to resign their license. This is treated the same as a disciplinary revocation and is reported that way. You should never expect to work in health care again or to have a health professional license in any other health specialty or in any other state.
Burden of Proof Is on the State to Prove the Allegations Against You; You Don’t Have to Prove Anything.
If the state brings charges against your massage therapy license, the burden of proof is on the state, just as in a criminal investigation. You do not have to prove anything, and in most cases, you should never make any statement to an investigator or attorney representing the state department of health; these can only be used against you to prove the state’s case against you.
You can remain silent, not say anything and not produce any evidence, and the state may not have enough witnesses or evidence to ever prove a case against you.
Most massage therapists, their non-lawyer representatives and their inexperienced lawyer representatives make a very big mistake. They advise the massage therapist to be interviewed or to make a statement “explaining themselves.” There is no criminal defense attorney worth his or her salt that would ever advise a criminal defendant to do this. Why then must they take leave of their senses and advise a health professional to do this in a “quasi-criminal” or “quasi-penal” investigation? This is almost always very bad advice.
Then, request a formal hearing and contest the facts. Don’t admit to them!
Conclusion: Defend Your Reputation and Massage Therapy License.
In conclusion, take precautions and defend your professional livelihood, your professional reputation and your professional license.
This is Florida. We have hurricanes. If you have a house you own, you purchase insurance on it to protect yourself in the event of a hurricane.
Without your license, you will not have an income and you will not be able to even make house payments. Why wouldn’t you purchase professional insurance that would pay for a defense in the event of that worst case scenario, an investigation of your license. Why wouldn’t you defend yourself to the max if this happened? This will probably feel worse to you and have worse long-term implications to you financially than any hurricane.
Stay tuned to this blog for more.
Don’t Wait Until It’s 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 massage therapists in investigations and at Florida Board of Massage Therapy 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. 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.
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