Inappropriate Referrals to the Texas Physician Health Program

 

Since its inception several years ago, the Texas Physician Health Program has provided a valuable option for physicians suffering from chemical dependency, serious mental illness, or physical impairment. For appropriate Texas physicians, the Physician Health Program (also known by its acronym “PHP”) can help a practitioner set up a structured recovery or monitoring program based on recommendations by qualified medical and mental health professionals. Additionally, in most instances participation in PHP is confidential and will not be reportable to the National Practitioner Databank, hospitals, insurance networks, or other credentialing entities.

Unfortunately, my firm has observed an increasing number of Texas physicians referred to PHP by the Texas Medical Board for marginal issues. This includes physicians with a single DWI conviction, long stable mental health conditions, and physical conditions unlikely to affect their practice. Such a physician can quickly find themselves asked to sign a long-term participation agreement with PHP that imposes restrictions on their practice and onerous monitoring conditions. This situation is tragic as in many instances it is possible to obtain a dismissal if the physician hires an attorney and allows the Board to review their case.

A common scenario begins with a physician fulfilling their duty to self-report a first-time DWI or Public Intoxication conviction to the Texas Medical Board. As a follow-up, the physician will often receive a letter from the TMB stating the Board is referring their case to the Physician Health Program for evaluation in lieu of an investigation or possible disciplinary action. The physician is then typically contacted by PHP and asked to set up a meeting with the program director, also a physician, at their office in Austin, Texas. Out of an abundance of caution, PHP will then usually ask the physician to sign a participation agreement with or without further evaluation or treatment. At this juncture, many physicians will enter into the agreement out of a fear of Board action even though their case would likely be dismissed by the Board at an informal conference.

My firm has represented many physicians in the same and similar situations and, through skillful representation before the Medical Board, obtained a dismissal at or before an informal conference. If the issue is marginal, not supported by a diagnosis, or is an existing diagnosis in long-term remission, it is often possible to put together appropriate evidence and expert opinion, present this to the TMB, and convince the Board to dismiss the case without taking any action.

The Board’s decision to refer a case to the Physician Health Program is usually reflexive and done prior to any real review of the physician’s case and circumstances. Effective advocacy by an attorney familiar with the Board’s process can allow a physician with a marginal issue to avoid both discipline by the Board or participation in PHP. Any physician finding themselves in this type of situation should contact an attorney to discuss their options. Evaluation and participation in the Texas Physician Health Program may be inappropriate and unnecessary.

 

Texas Board of Nursing Implements New Corrective Action Procedure

 

The Texas Board of Nursing has recently created and implemented a new, confidential procedure in which to resolve disciplinary investigations. Typically, the Nursing Practice Act limits the Board’s discretion to resolve a case through anything other than a public Order. In a welcome innovation, the Board now has the authority to settle a restricted set of cases involving minor violations of the Nursing Practice Act through a confidential, non-disciplinary corrective action procedure.

Eligibility for a corrective action plan is limited and at the sole discretion of the Nursing Board’s Executive Director. A nurse may be eligible to have their case resolved through a  corrective action proceeding if this is the first time they are being charged with one of the following violations:

  • Practice on a delinquent (expired) license for more than six months but less than one year;
  • Failure to comply with continuing competency requirements;
  • Failure to verify licensure/credentials of person for whom nurse is administratively  responsible;
  • Failure to provide complete and accurate answers to the Board, your employers, or potential employers about matters like your employment history, licensure history, or criminal history;
  • Failure to comply with Board requirements for change of name/address;
  • Failure to develop, maintain, and implement a peer review plan according to peer review requirements; and
  • Failure of an advanced practice registered nurse to register for prescriptive authority in an additional role and population focus area.

See 22 Tex. Admin. Code § 213.32(2)

There are several benefits to receiving a corrective action plan as opposed to a normal disciplinary order. These include:

A nurse is typically ineligible for a corrective action plan if they have committed more than one of the violations listed above. Id. at § 213.32(3). Moreover, if a case has already progressed to a contested case hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings, the Executive Director no longer possess the discretion to resolve a matter through corrective action.

  1. Not Disciplinary Action: Corrective Action is not considered disciplinary action. 22 Tex. Admin. Code § 213.32(1);
  2. Limited Penalty: The penalty may only be a fine, remedial education, or any combination thereof. See Tex. Occ. § 301.652(a)(1). Should a fine be imposed the amount for first time offenders is $500. 22 Tex. Admin. Code § 213.32(3). Hence a nurse doesn’t have to worry about having their license revoked or suspended or being subjected to a period of monitoring by the Board;
  3.  Finality: Once the nurse accepts the corrective action the case is closed. Tex. Occ. Code § 301.655(a);
  4. Greater Confidentiality: The corrective action is not public information unlike an agreed order or a formal hearing. Tex. Occ. Code § 301.652. As a result it is not subject to public disclosure, does not appear in the Board’s Newsletter, nor is it reported to the Healthcare Integrity and Protection Databank;
  5. Non-Admission of Guilt: A person’s acceptance of corrective action does not constitute an admission of a violation but only constitutes a plea of nolo contendere. Tex. Occ. Code § 301.657. However, if the board imposes a sanction on the person for a subsequent violation then it may treat a person’s acceptance of corrective action as an admission of a violation. Id.

It is important to note that the Legislature has included a provision within the authorizing statute requiring that the nurse accept an offer of corrective action within twenty days of receiving the proposed resolution from the Board, otherwise the Executive Director will have to pursue the complaint via the normal investigation process which could end with a public disciplinary action. Tex. Occ. Code §§ 301.654, 301.655.

As an attorney who represents numerous nurses before the Texas Board of Nursing each year, I view this as a positive initiative which should prevent relatively minor disciplinary issues from resulting in a potentially embarrassing public order. In fact, if anything, I feel the Board of Nursing could benefit from even greater authority to resolve cases through the kind of confidential order/process that is available to other state licensing entities such as the Texas State Board of Pharmacy and the Texas Medical Board through the new Physician Health Program.

The corrective action procedure has been especially helpful in my own practice for cases involving a nurse’s isolated failure to disclose minor criminal history on a licensure or renewal application. In the past, this could only be resolved through a public remedial education order which would remain on a nurse’s record indefinitely and be published in the Board’s Newsletter.

Any nurse with an active investigation with the Texas Board of Nursing would be well advised to consult with an attorney as to whether or not their case may be eligible for resolution through a corrective action plan. As stated above, this is an opportunity which can disappear once a case has proceeded to an advanced stage leaving a nurse with a limited choice between either litigating their case to its conclusion or accepting a public disciplinary order even if the Board’s allegations are of a de minis character.

Enough is Enough: Texas Board of Nursing Pursuit of Licensees Following Criminal Acquittal

 

Recently I have represented several nurses before the Texas Board of Nursing who were being pursued by Board Staff for allegations for which they had already been acquitted by the criminal justice system. As one would expect, this quasi-double jeopardy is extremely frustrating to the nurse. Despite already having hired a criminal lawyer and clearing their name in criminal court, they must now hire a license defense attorney to do the same thing before the Board of Nursing.

 

The most recent example, involved a case where the nurse had been accused of an inappropriate touching by a ten year old girl. The girl claimed that she had awaken at a sleep over at the client’s house to discover the nurse touching her; however, there were several inconsistencies with the girl’s testimony and it later came out that she was friends with another young girl who had made the exact same allegation (down to every detail) against my client several years prior but had subsequently admitted to her mother that she had made it up.

 

At the close of the nurse’s criminal trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty. Moreover, Child Protective Services had conducted their own investigation into the matter and determined that nothing had occurred. Yet, despite his acquittal and the negative finding by Child Protective Services, the Texas Board of Nursing decided to pursue their own disciplinary action against my client, seeking the revocation of his nursing license.

 

Thankfully, my firm was able to enforce the expunction order which had previously been entered by the criminal court to prevent the Board from using second-hand records from that trial to prove their case. Instead, the Board of Nursing was forced to bring the girl to testify in person at a hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Based on conflicting testimony from our witnesses and several discrepancies between the girl’s original outcry and her testimony at the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge concluded that the Board of Nursing had not met their burden of proof and accordingly entered an opinion favorable to the nurse.

 

I understand that the Board has a mission to protect the public from bad nurses; nevertheless, at some point one has to think that enough is enough. A person should only have to clear their name so many times before it is reasonable for the Board to think twice about wasting state money to retry a licensee for the same conduct.

 

The underlying lesson is that simply because you received a not guilty verdict in criminal court or the District Attorney decided not to prosecute, you are not shielded from a licensure action by the Texas Board of Nursing. They frequently subject a nurse licensee to yet another legal action where they are forced to again clear their name or face severe restrictions on, or even termination, of their livelihood. If you are facing such a situation with the Texas Board of Nursing, I highly recommend that you contact a seasoned administrative attorney with experience before the Texas Board of Nursing and the State Office of Administrative Hearings as otherwise you could be risking your license.

Texas State Board of Pharmacy Overreaches Statutory Mandate

 

Texas State Board of Pharmacy Overreaches Statutory Mandate Regarding Deferred Adjudications/Community Supervision:

 

I am currently serving as the defense attorney in several cases before the Texas State Board of Pharmacy that involve clients who are presently on deferred adjudication/community supervision for drug related offenses. In all of these cases the Board has taken the position that their Rules mandate the outright revocation of the license of any pharmacist or pharmacist tech who is on community supervision or probation for a felony drug related offense regardless of the circumstances or any other factor. This is outrageous and a clear contravention of their statutory mandate.

 

All administrative licensing agencies are creatures of statute and accordingly must derive their authority to regulate from law passed by the state Legislature. The Texas Pharmacy Act sets forth the public mandate of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy in § 551.002 of the Texas Occupations Code. This Sections states that it is the purpose of the Pharmacy Act and the Pharmacy Board “to regulate in the public interest the practice of pharmacy in this state as a professional practice…” in such a way that will “promote, preserve, and protect the public health, safety, and welfare.” Tex. Occ. Code § 551.002. Try as it might, the Board must regulate and discipline pharmacists while remaining within the confines of this public mandate.

 

In defiance of § 551.002, the Board has, within the past three years, passed and frequently amended Title 22 § 281.64 of the Texas Administrative Code in such a way as to make it impossible for any pharmacist or pharmacist tech to retain their license if they are also placed on deferred adjudication. For example, under Rule 218.64 any pharmacist or pharmacist tech who has been convicted of or is currently on deferred adjudication or deferred disposition for a felony involving either 1) mere possession or 2) the manufacture, delivery, or possession with intent to deliver, fraud, or theft of drugs is automatically subject to the revocation or denial of their license. This is without regard to the individual’s culpability, rehabilitation, age at the time of offense, or current fitness to serve as a licensed pharmacist or pharmacist tech. In many situations the pharmacist is not even deemed eligible for licensure until 20 years has passed since the date of disposition.

 

This Rule is in clear conflict with the Board’s statutory mandate. That mandate requires the Board to regulate “in the public interest” and in such a way that will “promote, preserve, and protect the public health, safety, and welfare.” Tex. Occ. Code § 551.002. Licensure revocation based merely in the bare fact of being on community supervision or probation for a drug-related offense satisfies neither of these standards. This Rule takes no account of the pharmacist or pharmacist tech’s extent of involvement in the criminal offense, whether they were even aware a criminal offense was being committed, or whether their participation was minimal or expansive. No account is taken of the licensee’s subsequent rehabilitation, their youthfulness at the time of the offense, or their present and future value to the community. The only thing that matters is whether or not twenty years have passed since the date of disposition.

 

Keep in mind that under Chapter 53 of the Texas Occupations Code licensing agencies such as the Pharmacy Board are required to take into account a set of specified mitigating factors, many of which are listed above, when taking a disciplinary action against a licensee who has actually been convicted of the same offense. Arguably on this ground alone, the Pharmacy Board’s Rule 281.64 is ultra vires (A Latin phrase crucial to administrative law which translates as “beyond the powers”) and hence void.

 

The only real explanation for this outrageous policy is a desire to punish pharmacists merely for the fact that they are on criminal probation and thereby guard the public image of the Pharmacy Board. There is no rational reason for summarily revoking a pharmacist who is on deferred adjudication for a drug-related offense. This is underlined by the fact that the Board freely permits chemically dependent and impaired pharmacists to continue to practice. Almost by definition these licensees have committed acts that would be deemed, had they been prosecuted, criminal possession, prescription fraud, and any of a number of offenses under the Texas Health and Safety Code. Many of these licensees also have ongoing addiction and chemical dependency issues, a circumstance which would arguably make their continued licensure more dangerous to public health and safety.

 

Furthermore, in my practice I have served as the defense attorney for hundreds of other licensed health care professionals before the Texas Medical Board, the Texas Board of Dental Examiners, and the State Board of Veterinary Examiners. These agencies are all notable because they all regulate licensees who hold prescriptive authority. None of these agencies have a similar provision in their administrative Rules. It is unclear why these Texas Boards feel that the public health and safety is safeguarded by permitting their licensees, who are also on felony deferred adjudication, to continue to practice under probated suspensions or subject to a reprimand whereas the Pharmacy Board demands outright revocation as a matter of law. Likely they realize that revocation as a matter of law is unreasonable, overly draconian, and likely beyond the bounds of their administrative authority. Even a Texas criminal court has greater discretion in fitting an appropriate punishment to each case.

 

It remains to be seen whether or not Rule 281.64 can actually withstand legal scrutiny in a full contested case or declaratory judgment action. I feel confident that it cannot, however, even challenging this Rule places the pharmacist in a position where they have spend extensive legal fees, not to mention time and frustration, to circumvent Rule 281.64.

 

The lesson any pharmacist or pharmacist tech should take away is that if you are on deferred adjudication for a drug-related offense you should seek the advice of an attorney immediately. This attorney should also be someone who is familiar with the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, the Pharmacy Act, and the applicable administrative rules. Early intervention can mean the difference between continuing as a pharmacist and losing your license and source of income.

Board of Nursing Overreaches Mandate in Pursuit of Ancient Criminal History

 

As most Texas nurses are now aware, the Texas Board of Nursing has for several years been performing criminal background checks as part of the renewal process. Each year a certain number of nurses who are up for renewal are required to submit fingerprints for an FBI background check. Those persons who lack any criminal history or who have previously disclosed that history to the Board need not worry. However, any licensees who do have an undisclosed criminal matter, even a minor one, should be concerned as the Board will likely use that record as an excuse to open an investigation and vigorously probe for any history or other indications that they feel indicates the person may lack fitness to practice nursing. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the Board’s policy is that they will apply the same searching examination no matter how old or miniscule the criminal record.

 

As an example, I recently served as the attorney for the spouse of a former client, who is also a nurse. His issue was that he recently received a letter from a Board investigator stating that a twenty year old arrest for misdemeanor possession of marijuana had popped up during his renewal background check and that they were opening an investigation based on it. The charge was so old that my client didn’t even remember it which is also the reason he had not disclosed it the Board. The arrest in fact is so old that it predates his entrance into nursing school. Furthermore, the fact that only an arrest showed up indicates that the local prosecutor likely decided that the matter was so minor that it did not warrant prosecution. Yet, the Board’s desire to pursue this old charge meant that he had to contact me and I dutifully sent a not so nice letter to the Board telling them to back off.

 

Essentially the Board is wasting state tax dollars and subjecting veteran nurses to searching and oftentimes humiliating investigations on the basis of decades-old minor criminal offenses which likely committed before the person was even licensed. This goes well beyond any investigatory/disciplinary mandate extended by the state legislature when they granted the Board the authority to perform extensive background checks as part of the renewal process.

The Texas Board of Nursing’s functions do include the screening of new and current licensees for the kind of criminal record which could indicate that they lack fitness to practice nursing. However, this authority does not extend to investigations and possible disciplinary action based on minor offenses committed one or two decades ago with years of uninterrupted, problem-free practice in the interim. All this does is waste Board funding and misdirect their limited resources away from pursuing licensees with genuine and ongoing issues that raise real questions about their safe practice.

 

It is unfortunate that it often takes the hiring of an attorney to convince the Board to retreat from this type of baseless investigation since they should never occur in the first place. It has been my experience as an attorney in many of these cases that the Board is essentially using the old offense as an excuse to sift into the nurse’s record and try and find anything which can then be added on as firmer grounds for disciplinary action. For example, the nurse will frequently be asked to submit to a polygraph examination and post-test forensic evaluation. As I have discussed elsewhere in my blog the Board has no authority to request this and the nurse is full within their rights to simply refuse. The problem is the nurse is never informed of this right of refusal as submission to test is presented as a mandatory matter-of-course. Following this the Board will habitually make an inappropriate referral to TPAPN based on the original criminal matter and whatever admissions or suspicious responses result from the polygraph and interview. Again the foundation for all of this can be nothing more than a decades old DWI or possession charge. 

 

Any nurse facing such a situation should consider hiring an attorney with experience representing clients before the Texas Board of Nursing. Unless they face a lawyer who knows what is and is not within their authority, the Board will likely try to initiate their own minor inquisition into your work and life history.

Texas Medical Board Makes Progress in Reducing Application Processing Times

 

Now that 2008 has come to a close, it has become clear that the Texas Medical Board has made significant strides in reducing the amount of time it takes to process first-time applicants for a state medical license. A combination of far-reaching medical malpractice reform and a growing population, has led to a large influx of new doctors seeking to practice in Texas during the past few years. Initially, the Board’s licensure department had trouble coping with the new strain leading to a long waiting period for physicians, even those who did not encounter any eligibility issues during the licensing process. As an attorney for many physicians who did face eligibility problems- such as a prior disciplinary or criminal history-, I remember waiting for a year and sometimes even more for the Medical Board to complete their initial processing of an application let along the initiation of their investigation or the scheduling of an appearance before the licensing committee.

 

Through the hiring of new licensing analysts and the streamlining of the application process, however, the Medical Board has cut down the amount of time a doctor spends in the licensing process, particularly those who lack any eligibility issues. One such innovation is the Board’s new Licensure Inquiry System of Texas (LIST). LIST allows each physician to obtain an online status page for their application. It lists each item required as part of their application and notes whether or not they have been received. This is a welcome change as in my experience a big part of the problem was the large number of different documents needed by the Board and the difficulty for both myself and applicants in learning exactly what was still needed and confirming when it was in receipt.

 

For example, I recently represented a physician who had been trying for over three years to obtain a Texas medical license. Prior to seeing me she had submitted her application three times and had even hired an attorney at one point to assist her in the process. Unfortunately, this attorney was not entirely familiar with the Texas Medical Board’s procedures and had been unsuccessful. Part of the problem for my client was that she had some eligibility issues which meant the Board was requiring her to submit various documents and letters from her medical school, residency program, and employers. The Board mandated that these be sent directly to them from their authors in a special sealed format. Each time my client had dutifully requested that the relevant parties send them in the specified format only to be frustrated when they were either sent incorrectly or the Board failed to either confirm or deny their receipt. Even with numerous extensions she would invariably fail to have her entire application completed by the deadline and therefore have to completely restart the application procedure.

 

Thankfully I was recently able to help this physician through the process and obtain her license. Hopefully, the new procedures such as LIST system will help avoid such situations in the future. Regardless the Board still needs to transfer its progress on the processing of applications from problem-free applicants to those from physicians with eligibility challenges.

 

As you can perhaps tell from the above example, the licensing process can sometimes be a Byzantine and daunting process for physicians, especially those who can expect to confront eligibility issues. Physicians who anticipate or who are already confronting such obstacles should seriously consider seeking the aid of an attorney familiar with navigating the Texas Medical Board’s licensing procedures. The hand of an experienced counsel can significantly cut down on the stress and confusion attendant with the application process and help ensure that you come out the other end with a state medical license.      

Am I Eligible for a Nursing License?: Declaratory Order of Eligibility for Licensure

 

I often receive calls from nursing students, or even those only considering pursuing a nursing degree, with questions concerning whether or not they will be licensed by the Board of Nursing. Typically, these individuals have a criminal record, history of misuse of controlled substances, or a mental health diagnosis that they fear will present an obstacle to successful licensure.

 

These persons have already taken best course of action by being proactive and contacting an attorney with experience before the Board and who should therefore be able to estimate the difficulty they may or may not face in applying for their license. Generally speaking most nurses with marks on their record should be able to obtain licensure. A good portion of these may have to do so under the form of a probationary license with restrictions related to whatever it is that concerns the Board.

 

For example, an applicant with a history of abuse of controlled substances may only receive their license on the condition that submit to random drug screens, attend AA meetings, successfully complete a recovery program, and work in an environment where they can be supervised by a superior nurse. A nurse with a criminal record may have to enter into an Agreed Order that provides for supervised practice and grants them only a provisional license with full licensure dependent on achieving a number of years of violation-free practice. Finally, persons with a serious psychiatric diagnosis may need to agree to an Order mandating that they continue with a specified medical treatment program to keep their condition under control.

 

The very few nurses who will likely not be issued a license are those with serious criminal convictions or an ongoing and untreated chemical dependency problem. On the issue of serious criminal offenses I am referring to convictions such as rape, sexual assault, kidnapping, injuring a child, or murder. Section 301.4535 of the Nursing Practice Act provides a list of criminal offenses for which the Board may refuse to license an applicant. Other felony convictions fall under this list as well.

 

Future nurses should note, however, that the Board is typically reluctant to license a nurse even a minor black mark on their record if they are not represented by an attorney. They will usually refuse outright or press a nurse to enter into an order with terms that are more stringent than indicated by their history. As in any disciplinary matter, the Board of nursing generally pursues the severest sanction unless the nurse has a lawyer to fight for their interests.

 

One option for students unsure of their eligibility for licensure is found in § 301.257 of the Nursing Practice Act. This section provides that a nursing student or even a person only considering attending a nursing school can file a Petition for a Declaratory Order of Eligibility for Licensure. In response, the Board of Nursing will then review that person’s history and assess whether they meet the required good moral and professional character standards. If they do, the Board Staff will issue a Declaratory Order finding that individual conditionally eligible for licensure as long as they graduate and later pass the standard nursing exams.

 

If you have questions about your eligibility for a Texas nursing license or the declaratory order procedure, please call an experienced administrative law attorney. They should be able to intelligently discuss your case and lay out your options. Don’t wait until after graduating from nursing school to find out that you may not be eligible for a Texas license.

TMB & BNE's Policy on Deferred Disposition Arguably Unlawful

Despite the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure’s clear admonishment that a person’s successfully completed Deferred Disposition (available for Class C offenses in Municipal and Justice Courts only) cannot be used against them, the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners and Texas Medical Board continue to use such a record as a basis for disciplinary investigations and sanctions. I recently represented a client physician who had been given a deferred disposition for Public Intoxication -a Class C misdemeanor. Even though my client successfully completed their deferral requirements, the TMB nevertheless dug this fact up and used it to try and sanction the physician’s license. The Texas Board of Nursing is also guilty in this area. Despite the fact that an attorney / prosecutor and a criminal judge decide that a deferred disposition is warranted, licensing boards and administrative agencies routinely attempt to impose discipline anyway. Unfortunately, all too often unrepresented applicants and lawyers practicing outside of their scope fail to realize the remedies available to them.

Besides being bad policy and simply unfair, the practice is also arguably illegal under the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Code specifically states that once the complaint is dismissed upon the person’s successful completion of deferred disposition, “there is no final conviction and the complaint may not be used against the person for any reason.” Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 45.051(e). Yet, the Medical Board and the Texas Board of Nursing frequently use such criminal history as the foundation of investigations, licensure actions and application denials. The statute’s prohibition against the use of the disposition goes to the very reason for having deferred disposition in the first place. It is designed to give the minor criminal offender a second chance at a clean slate. The policies of the Texas Medical Board and the Board of Nurse Examiners undermine this purpose and needlessly burden their license and discipline divisions with minor offenders that pose no danger to Texas patients.  Ultimately when this predicament the licensee should seek the remedy of expunction which is availalable in almost all cases where a defferred disposition has been succesfully completed.

Expunctions: Disclosure, Discipline & The Texas Board of Nurse Examiners

The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 55, Article 55.04 forbids a State Agency from using, questioning an individual about, or in any way releasing information about an arrest that has been expunged pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 55. Moreover, Tex. Code Crim. Proc. § 55.03 provides that the effect of an Expunction Order in a licensure disciplinary proceeding, including the application process,  allows for the individual to deny the arrest and the existence of the Order of Expunction. However, the Texas Board of Nurse Examiners (BNE) requires that a licensed nurse or nursing license applicant disclose the existence of the arrest on renewals and initial license applications. It is undetermined if they seek to utilize these arrests against the nurse in a disciplinary proceeding or as a basis for the denial of a license. However, the mere thought that the registration renewals or applications ask about information which if utilized would subject members of Board Staff to criminal sanctions raises a few alarming concerns.

Clearly a great number of people are under the false impression that a dismissal and an order of expunction are one and the same. Perhaps Board Staff is attempting to make sure that the arrest has truly been expunged. Unfortunately, this violates the spirit of the expunction statute as the effect of the expunction allows an individual the right to deny the arrest and the existence of the expunction order.  

Moreover, the Board of Nurse Examiners can clearly discipline a nurse’s license or deny an application for failing to completely and fully disclose discoverable criminal history. They can not however, use an expunged offense (or the conduct behind the offense) as a basis for discipline or denial. In the last several years my law firm has expunged several arrests for both Registered Nurses (RN’s) and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN’s) and have always noticed the BNE in the Petition for Expunction. They have never contested the expunction or attempted to utilize the information. 

If a nurse finds themselves in a situation of uncertainty with respect to whether or not an arrest has been expunged or needs to be disclosed they should contact an attorney who is familiar with both criminal law & the administrative process. If the offense is truly expunged a nurse does not have to prove that it is. However, if it is not then it must be disclosed. Finally, oftentimes DPS and other agencies make mistakes so sometimes truly expunged arrests are not properly destroyed by the reporting entities. It is therefore imperative that a certified copy of the Order of Expunction be retained indefinitely.

BNE & Criminal History -Public Image or Public Safety?

The Board of Nurse Examiners for the State of Texas received authorization and funding from the legislature to undergo complete criminal history and background checks on every nurse in the State of Texas.  Accordingly, every LVN and RN in Texas will be required to submit a fingerprint card to the BNE over the next ten years.  The cards will be submitted to the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Saftey for verification and accuracy of the Nurse's identity and criminal history. Ten percent of nurses will be required to undergo this scrutiny per year until all licensees have been evaluated.  This has created a marked rise in investigations and disciplinary orders.  There are several inherent problems with this process however, and nurses should seek advice from an experienced lawyer before they accept a proposed disciplinary sanction that will mar their record indefinitely.

      To begin, the BNE did not acquire jursidiction over deferred adjudications until September 1, 2005.  Staff of the Board however, is investigating offenses that resulted in deferred adjudication probations and dismissals that are more than twenty years old.  This week alone I received calls from two LVNs who had just such misdemeanor criminal records and were being investigated by the BNE.  Board Staff, including the Attorneys, readily admit they did not and do not have substantive jurisdiction over the criminal history, but maintain they are concerned about the conduct or the psychiatric disorder that may be reflected by the offense and the behavior.  The fact is both of these nurses have renewed their licenses for the last twenty (20) years and have never been required to reveal this history.  Additionally, both have practiced nursing without incident during this period and each has had exceptional performance appraisals from all employers.  Why then is the BNE delving into these issues when all of their investigators have such large case loads that they can not adequately work up a case?  The answer is simple -Public Image.

     A recent article published by the Fort Worth Star Telegraph entitled Nursing Board Sets High Standards describes Staff of the Board referring to public opinion concerning nurses.  The Executive Director of the Board was quoted as saying:   "Americans rate nurses at the top of the list of trusted professionals. And there's plenty of reason why".  So is the BNE more concerned about the way they appear to the press and the public or ensuring there are enough quality nurses available to meet the demands of the workforce?  Arguably, the stance and the approach suggest that public appearance and image is what is priority.

     Recently I have had a flurry of client's who are being invesigated for alcohol related Class C offenses that are over a decade old.  Staff of the Board maintains they are worried that the nurse may suffer from alcohol abuse or chemical dependency.  What Board Staff fails to look at however, are the last ten years of a perfect working history, with no practice related errors.  Board Staff would like to predicate a nurse's future on their remote past without due consideration given to recent history.  This absurd infringement was taken to an extreme when a prospective Client was being investigated for an arrest for marijuana possesion that occurred overseas over thirty years ago.  What is even more ludicrous is that no conviction ever was imposed and the country is now a war zone.  I would like to see staff of the Board issue a subpoena to this war ridden country for a police report that is written in hyroglyphics.  BNE lawyers and attorneys may be adequate trial lawyers, but any Administrative Law Judge would be hard pressed to admit such evidence given the numerous evidentiary and admissibility problems inherent with such a report.