The processing of complaints filed with the State Board of Dental Examiners (“Board”) is governed by Chapter 255, Title 3, Occupations Code and Rules 107.00 through 107.103 of the Board’s Rules. After deciding that the complaint involves potential violations, Board Staff has the authority to schedule an informal settlement conference, draw up a proposed board order, or file a formal complaint with the State Office of Administrative Hearings. As the informal settlement conference track gives the licensees an opportunity to present their mitigating or exculpatory evidence to a Board member who has the authority to resolve an investigation, such a setting is many times favorable to flesh out the facts and give the licensees a venue to clarify the issues. 

Unfortunately, the more recent trend has pointed to Board Staff presenting proposed board orders to licensees in lieu of scheduling informal settlement conferences to resolve cases. These board orders are prepared and reviewed by Board Staff, including the dental director who is employed by the Board.  In the proposed order Board Staff will make findings of fact and conclusion of law, and list sanctions without any input from the licensee. The proposed orders are sent to the licensees accompanied by a form letter stating the failure to sign the order would result in a formal complaint and a contested case hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Many times, licensees, without an understanding of the disciplinary process will be coerced to sign the order as the prospects of a formal hearing are daunting. What the dentist often does not know is they still have the right to request an informal conference and obtain a copy of all non-confidential information in Staff’s investigative file. For these reasons, among others, licensees investigated by the Board should seriously consider hiring an attorney.

The attorneys at the Leichter Law Firm have extensive experience in professional licensing and administrative law and will generally help to secure better outcomes than a practitioner facing the Board alone. In the scenario explained above, we would request an informal settlement conference so that we would be better able to marshal evidence and present your case to Board Staff and a representative Board member.  If you have received a proposed board order without having been afforded the opportunity for a face-to-face informal meeting, please call the attorneys at the Leichter Law Firm for a free consultation at 512-495-9995.

 

 

The Texas Medical Board has a new method of resolving outstanding investigations, courtesy of the 2011 legislative session- the Remedial Plan. If you are a physician with an investigation pending before the Medical Board, you may very well encounter the Remedial Plan. They are being offered frequently. In some cases that will be good news , but contrary to how Board staff may sell it, the Remedial Plan is not suited for everyone. 

Let me give an overview of the Remedial Plan. The Board terms the Remedial Plan as a non-disciplinary order. It cannot be offered in instances where the complaint concerns a patient death, commission of a felony, or an instance where a physician becomes sexually, financially, or personally involved with a patient in an inappropriate manner. The Remedial Plan also cannot assess an administrative penalty, or revoke, suspend, limit or restrict a person’s license. Typically the Remedial Plans include continuing education and/or the requirement to take the Jurisprudence Exam. They also could include non-restrictive terms like a physician chart monitor, and they virtually always carry a $500 administration fee.

Despite the limitations on when a Remedial Plan can be offered, there are still many circumstances that qualify, and this is borne out in how frequently Board disciplinary panels are offering them. They are being offered before Informal Settlement Conferences (ISC) in an attempt to forgo the need to hold a hearing. They are also being offered at ISC’s in lieu of other discipline. This all sounds like good news. It is a “non-disciplinary” order after all. However, one corresponding trend that does concern me, as an attorney that is now encountering these Remedial Plans quite frequently, is that Panels are offering Remedial Plans in circumstances where they otherwise would have dismissed the case entirely. The Board Panels feel too comfortable offering the Remedial Plan because it is “non-disciplinary.” It seems the Board Panel can justify offering a Remedial Plan in instances where they could not otherwise justify disciplinary action. 

 

Continue Reading The Texas Medical Board’s Remedial Plan -is it really a non-disciplinary order?

 

The Texas Board of Nursing has recently started offering a new type of agreed order which allows, with some significant reservations, nurses to avoid a permanent disciplinary mark on their record. Pursuant to the Legislature’s mandate that the Board administer a pilot program to study the feasibility of deferred disciplinary actions, the BON has enacted rules governing this program and outlining what type of cases are eligible for the new deferred disciplinary order. For those interested, the enacting statute is located at Section 301.1607 of the Nursing Practice Act and the governing rule is found at Title 22, Section 213.34 of the Texas Administrative Code.

A nurse who receives a deferred disciplinary order can have the order and original complaint dismissed and removed from their licensure record with the Board of Nursing if they successfully complete the terms of the order and receive no further disciplinary actions within the next five years. At the end of the five year period the deferred order is effectively sealed and any record of its existence is removed from the Board’s website. Additionally, this disciplinary action is then deemed confidential and is not subject to disclosure to either the public or a nurse’s employer.

There are significant limitations to these confidentiality protections. First, prior to the five year mark, the deferred disciplinary order is completely public and will appear in both the Board’s Newsletter and on the nurse’s online licensure page. Second, as with any Board order, the BON is required to file a report with the Healthcare Integrity Protections Data Bank (HIPDB). As this is a creation of Congress, it is subject to federal law and does not recognize confidentiality protections created at the state level. This means that a record of the disciplinary action taken against the nurse will stay in HIPDB indefinitely and remain accessible to employers regardless of its erasure in Texas.

Eligibility for a deferred disciplinary order is restricted to those cases which can be resolved through either a Warning with Stipulations or less severe order. Matters normally disposed of through a Reprimand, Probated Suspension, Enforced Suspension, or Revocation are not eligible for a deferred disciplinary action. Furthermore cases involving criminal or sexual misconduct, chemical dependency or substance abuse, intentional acts, falsification, or deception are likewise not eligible for the pilot program. The program is designed to apply to nurses whose cases show a lack of situational awareness or a knowledge or practice deficit. Finally, nurses with a prior disciplinary history with the Board cannot receive a deferred disciplinary order.

Its limitations aside, the deferred discipline pilot program is a welcome development and should prove beneficial in resolving marginal cases involving minor violations of the Nursing Practice Act. A nurse with an active case before the Board of Nursing curious about whether they may be eligible for a deferred disciplinary order should contact an attorney experienced in administrative law and in representing clients before the BON.

 

The Texas Medical Board receives about 6,000 complaints each year, and in an effort to resolve select “minor” violations of the Medical Practice Act (Act) more quickly, an administrative penalty order has been developed and put into use called the Fast-track Order (Fast-track). 

Not every violation of the Act is eligible for a Fast-track. The Fast-track has been referred to as the speeding ticket of the Board’s disciplinary options. Its use is limited to a relatively small list of violations, including: failure to complete continuing medical education (CME) requirements; failure to change address with Board; and failure to provide copies of medical records in a timely manner upon request.

If Board staff determines that a licensee’s alleged violation is eligible for a Fast-track, they will send a brief notice of the allegations to the licensee with a synopsis of the allegations and the deadlines for response.

The licensee is given three choices:

  1. The first option is to plead no contest and pay the fine. Sometimes this can be an attractive outcome if the licensee inarguably violated the Act, and wants to save the time and money of even taking the case as far as an Informal Settlement Conference (ISC). A no-contest plea means that the Fast-track will be entered by the Board, and the licensee’s public profile will be updated to reflect the discipline. The order itself is a brief document, containing only a brief statement of the allegation, but its presence is a permanent mark on the licensee’s public profile.
  2. The second option the licensee is given is to respond in writing to the allegation. The licensee’s right to an ISC is thereby waived, and the written response is considered by the Board’s Disciplinary Process Review Committee (DPRC). DPRC will then either dismiss the case or impose the fast-track penalty without any further input from the licensee.
  3. The final option is to reject the fast-track order and proceed to an ISC, which is to say that the case would proceed through the regular disciplinary process. The licensee would be invited to attend an ISC and discuss the allegations with a Panel of Board representatives.

If the licensee chooses not to answer at all, the Board has the authority to impose the administrative penalty. This happens often if the Board does not have the licensee’s current contact information, and when the discrepancy is noticed by the licensee somewhere down the road, they find themselves mired in bureaucratic quicksand trying to straighten it out. 

Ultimately, if you receive a Fast-Track, and you are faced with the prospect of choosing one of the above options, you should realize that each one of the above options has its variables to consider, whether it be the amount of time and money that will be spent, or the visibility of a given disciplinary outcome. If you have received a Fast-Track letter from the Board, it is in your best interests to consult with an attorney to best evaluate your options. The Leichter Law Firm has successfully defended many clients before the Board, and is mindful of the pitfalls of the Board’s disciplinary process. Do not hesitate to call us for a free consultation at (512) 495-9995.     

In 2010, the Texas Medical Board (Board) implemented a new disciplinary mechanism- the Corrective Order. Briefly, a Corrective Order is a disciplinary Order that is offered to physician  licensees before any other informal proceedings take place, with the apparent goal of settling those cases quickly, and in lieu of proceeding with an Informal Settlement Conference (ISC). 

Corrective Orders are not offered in every legal case, but rather at the discretion of the Board’s Quality Assurance Committee (QA), which is made up of a mix of Board members, District Review Committee members, and Board attorneys and other staff. Typically, Corrective Orders are offered in cases where the alleged violations rise above the ministerial discipline of the Fast-track Order, but where the factual issues are straightforward enough that QA feels they do not necessarily require a hearing.

 If the licensee signs the Corrective Order, the ISC is taken off the schedule, and the Order goes to the full Board for approval and resolution. If the licensee declines the Corrective Order, then it is taken off the table and the case is looked at afresh at the ISC. Typically, the licensee is given 20 days to decide whether to sign it or not.    

Each time a Corrective Order is signed, the Board benefits in several ways. Each signed Corrective Order helps the Board’s disciplinary numbers and reinforces the viewpoint that they are actively and successfully protecting the public’s health and welfare. Additionally, each Corrective Order that is signed means that the Board will not have to devote further resources to the investigation and informal settlement process which involves the development of a case file by the TMB Staff attorneys and legal assistants.   The benefit to the licensee is not always as clear cut. 

Upon receipt of a Corrective Order, there are a number of things that should be considered before deciding either way on it.

Continue Reading The Texas Medical Board’s Corrective Order Explained

The Texas Medical Board (TMB) cancelled the appearance of all physician licensure candidates scheduled to appear before the Board’s Licensure Committee at its February 3 and February 4th meeting due to inclement weather. The applicants have been rescheduled until the April Board meeting. This will result in the scheduling of probably 40 to 50 applicants at the April meeting.  

The Leichter Law Firm is the attorney of record for at least 5 of the doctors including one who has filed a meritorious Motion for Rehearing after a denial from the October meeting of the Texas Medical Board. This is an unfortunate event for at least one-half of the applicants many of who have qualified for a full Texas medical license in every respect,  but are waiting to challenge a contention by Texas Medical Board Staff Attorneys that they have submitted false or misleading information on their physician application. As a result they can both sign an administrative order and pay a fine which results in a permanent disciplinary action on their record, or they can challenge the agency’s initial or preliminary determination and appear in front of the Licensure Committee in support of their cause/application.  As an Agreed Order of Licensure is a permanent blemish on a doctor’s record, most physician applicants asked to appear before the TMB retain experienced Texas medical board defense attorneys to represent them through the process.

The portions of the Texas Medical Board meeting which could be conducted through phone conferencing was achieved such as the processing and ratification of disciplinary orders and the discussion and adoption of guidelines for mediations of contested cases at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). Unfortunately, all appearances before the Board were rescheduled which will result in even more work for the already busy Texas Medical Board members and Staff attorneys. Also rescheduled were all events which required live appearances or witnesses were rescheduled. 

The Board and Staff made the decision to cancel early on Tuesday which buy first impressions seemed premature. As the weather developed and snow, freezing temperatures and ice invaded the Austin and central Texas area it became clear that a wise decision was made –albeit to the disappointment of all of the physician applicants scheduled to appear. 

 

Like most health licensing boards, the Texas State Board of Pharmacy possesses extensive authority to discipline pharmacists and pharmacies for violations of their enabling statute, the Texas Pharmacy Act. This includes criminal matters, negligent practice, fraud and deceit, suspected substance abuse/dependency, and anything the Board determines falls within the broad and ill-defined ambit of unprofessional conduct. Unlike most Texas medical licensing boards, however, the Pharmacy Board is also authorized to discipline pharmacists for violating another state’s law pertaining to drugs or the practice of pharmacy. This grant of jurisdiction is expansive and raises unique regulatory pitfalls for Texas pharmacists whose practice reaches into other states or who hold licenses in multiple jurisdictions.

Normally, before a Texas licensing board can impose discipline on a licensee for violations of another state’s law, the licensing board in the subject jurisdiction must have already entered a disciplinary order in their state. In this event, the Texas board, including the Pharmacy Board, can then discipline the licensed professional in Texas through their reciprocal discipline statute. Through reciprocal discipline the Pharmacy Board need only present the foreign order and is not required to separately prove up the underlying allegations. The same almost always holds true in any other states where the pharmacist or medical professional is licensed. This is one of the primary problems facing a Texas medical professional holding licensure in multiple states: an order in one state can cause a cascade effect of similar disciplinary actions in the other jurisdictions were they are licensed. 

The Pharmacy Board’s disciplinary statutes go even further, however, and authorize discipline for a violation of another state’s laws even in the absence of any action by the other state. As an example, my firm recently represented a compounding pharmacy located in Texas which sold medications to practitioners located throughout the country. This pharmacy, which initially was not licensed in any other jurisdiction, was investigated and subsequently disciplined by the Texas Pharmacy Board due to their lack of the proper non-resident pharmacy permits required in many of these other states. This was despite the fact none of these other states had taken any action against the pharmacy nor were there any indications they planned to do so even after my client had made them aware they had ostensibly been in violation of their regulations. The pharmacy has now been subjected to a disciplinary order in Texas which it will need to report to all the other states in which it has or will soon be licensed. The end result could easily be a series of orders and fines in other jurisdictions pursuant to each state’s reciprocal discipline statute. This is all because Texas elected to punish this pharmacy due to its failure to adhere to the law in other states even when such states had declined to impose discipline.

As can be seen above, this far-reaching grant of authority permits the Texas Pharmacy Board to essentially be the enforcer of other state’s law and can have serious consequences to Texas pharmacists and pharmacies. Every licensee actively or merely planning to conduct business in another state would be well advised to ensure adherence to the other jurisdiction’s laws pertaining to drugs and pharmacy. At a minimum this should involve consulting with an attorney to investigate whether licensing or out-of-state permitting is required by the other state. Failure to do so can lead to an otherwise avoidable disciplinary order in Texas, likely a significant impediment to the continued expansion of your business.

 

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.

After receiving a letter of investigation from the Texas Board of Nursing and providing their initial response, it is quite common for a licensed nurse to wait for a long time prior to hearing any additional word from Board Staff. When a response does come, however, it is often in the form of a proposed Agreed Order or even a request that the nurse voluntarily surrender their nursing license. If a nurse has not yet sought legal advice from an attorney farmiliar with professional license defense, now would be the time to do so, as signing the proposed Agreed Order is a final resolution of their case and effectively serves as an express or tacit admission that the Board of Nursing’s allegations are true.

So what exactly is an Agreed Order in the context of the Texas Board of Nursing? The Nursing Practice Act, the Board’s administrative rules, and the Administrative Procedure Act authorize a state licensing board such as the Board of Nursing to resolve disciplinary cases through an Agreed Order. By signing the Agreed Order, both the licensed nurse (LVN, RN or APN) and the Board are agreeing to a legal settlement resolving all outstanding allegations in exchange for a set of requirements or stipulations to be imposed on the nurse. These stipulations can range from the active suspension of the nurse’s license, a mandate that the licensee submit to random drug testing over a number of years, a restriction on where and when a nurse can work, supervision requirements, fines, and even demands that the licensee complete additional CE courses.

A common inquiry received by my law office is whether or not a nurse who has already signed an Agreed Order which has been ratified by the full Board can now back out of its requirements. Please know that once an order has been signed and officially entered by the Board, it is extremely difficult to negate the stipulations or re-litigate the underlying allegations with the lawyers for the Board. In a small minority of cases it may be possible to modify the Order by petitioning the Nursing Board’s Eligibility and Disciplinary Committee which typically meets every other month. However; it is very rare to even be granted a hearing before the E & D Committee let alone be granted the requested relief.

A nurse should never sign an Agreed or Voluntary Surrender Order lightly and without first seeking legal advice form a lawyer who is well versed in administrative law and nursing license defense. Otherwise they will not know if the requested Order is legally justifiable or is backed up by sufficient evidence. The Board, coming from their perspective as the protector of public safety, usually seeks, at least initially, the most severe punishment which they feel is supported by their rules and various disciplinary guidelines. Oftentimes, a nurse may be able to achieve a better result with adequate representation by an experienced professional licensing attorney. I strongly urge Texas nurses to seek legal advice before signing any proposed Order; otherwise they may find themselves regretting it later or even belatedly discover they are no longer allowed to work at their preferred place of employment. Too often I see nurses who have signed Orders which they never should have been on in the first place become trapped in a downward spiral of compliance and other issues which threaten their ability to continue practicing.

 

Recent months have seen a sharp upswing in the Board of Nursing’s use of temporary suspension as a disciplinary measure against licensees including RN’s LVN’s, APN’s and CRNA’s. This is likely due to an influx of new attorneys, investigators, and other staff at the Nursing Board. Temporary suspension is authorized by the Nursing Practice Act (The Act), Section 301 of the Occupations Code. Tex. Occ. Code § 301. The Texas Legislature has carved out two specific areas in which temporary suspension is mandated: continuing and imminent threats to the public welfare, and “intemperate use” cases. Tex. Occ. Code § 301.455 and 4551.

First, temporary suspension is required by the Act “on a determination by a majority of the board or a three-member committee of board members designated by the board that, from the evidence or information presented, the continued practice of the nurse would constitute a continuing and imminent threat to the public welfare.” Tex. Occ. Code § 301.455(a). The Texas Legislature has also authorized the Board of Nursing to suspend or restrict a license without notice or a hearing, provided that two conditions are met. Tex. Occ. Code § 301.455(a). First, institution of proceedings for a hearing before SOAH must be initiated simultaneously with the suspension, and second, a hearing must be held “as soon as possible under this chapter and Chapter 2001, Government Code.” Tex. Occ. Code § 301.455(b)(1) and (2).Our lawyers have seen a number of cases in which a temporary suspension on this basis resulted from allegations of egregious sexual misconduct, serious criminal charges, and violence.

Second, Section 301.4551 mandates temporary suspension of a license for so-called “intemperate use” cases. These cases concern nurses who are subject to a board order prohibiting the use of alcohol and nonprescribed drugs or requiring participation in a peer assistance program. Tex. Occ. Code § 301.4551. The Board may temporarily suspend the license of such a nurse if the nurse in question tests positive for alcohol or a prohibited drug, refuses to comply with a board order to submit to a drug or alcohol test, or fails to participate in the peer assistance program and the program issues a letter of dismissal and referral to the board for noncompliance. Tex. Occ. Code § 301.4551. Our law firm has seen numerous cases in which a nurse is placed on temporary suspension if that nurse shows a pattern of repeatedly engaging in intemperate use of alcohol or other prohibited drugs, especially while at work.

Once an order of temporary suspension has been issued, the Board must hold a hearing to determine probable cause within fourteen days of the issuance of the order. Following that, a hearing on the merits must be held within sixty days. The probable cause hearing is in reality the first opportunity the nurse may get to explain their side of the story and why their nursing license should not be subject to an on-going order of temporary suspension. The hearing is held in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act and the administrative rules governing the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). The Board’s case is prosecuted by one of its staff attorneys and is ruled upon by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) from SOAH.