I have been representing nurses in disciplinary cases before the Texas Board of Nursing for over ten years. My five lawyer law firm has assisted approximately 1000 nurses in a variety of legal and nursing license matters with the Board. This includes RN’s, LVN’s and advance practice nurses such as family nurse practitioners and CRNA’s.  During this time the Board’s Staff attorneys have grown in number from 2 to 6. The Board’s general counsel (Dusty Johnston) has been a constant as has the director of enforcement and the Executive Director –Katherine Thomas. The Staff has grown in number as well with additions made in investigations, enforcement and licensing.

 

Five years ago the Nursing Board’s case log was backed up and a nurse undergoing an investigation could expect the case to drag on for three to five years. A competent attorney who was familiar with the Board’s processes could expect an informal conference to be afforded to their Client. At this conference reasonable efforts to talk, settle or have the case dismissed would occur before Formal Charges were filed and the matter was set by the nursing board’s lawyers for a contested case hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings –SOAH.

 

Today the Texas Board of Nursing, the enforcement division and its six lawyer Staff have a much different approach. The disciplinary case comes through investigations where it is worked up by an investigator and reviewed by a supervising investigator / team leader. While the team considers material filed by the nurse and their attorney, if there is reason to believe the nurse has violated the Nursing Practice Act the nurse is sent a proposed agreed order for their review. At this juncture one can ask for an informal conference but unless the case is practice related and the evidence is tenuous the request for an informal is unlikely to be granted. Instead, the Respondent Nurse can either accept the offer or the case will move on to SOAH for the next phase of litigation. This is an emotional and difficult decision for any nurse and their attorney.

 

If the proposed Agreed Order is rejected formal charges are filed internally with the Board and posted on the Texas Board of Nursing’s website for public viewing. Employers often balk at nurses who have formal charges filed against them and many are fired as a result even though they are just defending themselves and their license. Although the nursing license is now tagged or marked the nurse has no ability to defend their license through discovery until the Board’s attorneys docket the matter at SOAH and formal discovery begins. This is tacitly unfair but unless the nurse through her attorney requests the matter be expeditiously docketed they just remain in limbo with a mark across their license and name.


Continue Reading The Texas Board of Nursing and the Changing Landscape of its Disciplinary Process

There has been a recent and rapid rise in the number of physicians being prosecuted for the alleged non-therapeutic prescribing of controlled substances under both state and federal law.  In the last week alone I have received numerous phone calls from a variety of medical and osteopathic doctors who had been arrested and/or indicted by the federal government or a local law enforcement branch after a joint investigation by a task force of state and federal agencies such as the Texas Medical Board (TMB), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a local sheriff’s and/or police office and the State Board of Pharmacy. These individuals are being charged by prosecuting attorneys in United States District Court (Federal Court) with crimes under the Federal Controlled Substances Act or in State Court for violations of the Health and Safety Code and the Medical Practice Act. In most cases the basic charge is the delivery of a prescription (to a patient and within the context of the physician’s medical practice) for a controlled substance without a valid therapeutic purpose. Many of the physicians I spoke with questioned why and how the government can substitute its’ clinical judgment for the physicians.  Essentially this amounts to a physician being prosecuted and jailed for a standard of care based decision that was once a purely civil or administrative inquiry. My law practice has been handling these cases for years and over the last year the number of inquiries to our attorneys has increased tenfold suggesting the marked rise in government prosecutions is very real. 

Oftentimes the Government relies on the sheer number of prescriptions written or the types / combinations of medications prescribed to make its’ case. It then utilizes experts to opine that a reasonable physician would not prescribe this combination of medications to this many patients and thus the treatment of patient X was non-therapeutic. This is a questionable way to go about proving a case, but it does not stop the Government from doing its investigation, arresting the doctor, forcing the surrender of their DEA issued controlled substances registration, initiating the inevitable discipline and loss of the physician’s medical license and the consequent destruction of their medical practice pending prosecution(s).  While violations of the administrative rules surrounding the handling and use of prescriptive authority carry civil and administrative monetary provisions, violations of a state or federal statute mean confinement upon conviction and the inevitable loss of the physician’s career in medicine. For many physicians the result has been the very conservative treatment of patients and arguably the under treatment of both acute and chronic pain. I have thankfully yet to see the government pursue a case that involved palliative care.


Continue Reading Criminal Prosecution of Pain Management Physicians by State and Federal Law Enforcement is on the Rise

The 2011 regular Legislative Session resulted in a moderate reform of the Texas Medical Board’s disciplinary process. The Governor signed House Bill 680 into law on June 17, 2011. The modest reform measures that were ultimately included in HB 680 are not likely to satisfy the longtime proponents of Medical Board reform. A number of the more

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

My law firm has recently represented several LPC-Supervisors and LPC-Interns before the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors (TSBEPC) in reference to avoiding or defending against charges that a LPC-Intern is operating an independent counseling practice while earning the 3,000 supervised experience hours necessary for full licensure. The recurrent problem has been that

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