How to Respond to a Florida Department of Health Investigation?
A frequent question asked by health care professionals who are faced with an investigation by their professional board and the Florida Department of Health (DOH) is whether or not to speak to the DOH investigator. The process begins when DOH sends a Medical Quality Assurance Investigator to speak with the licensee about the nature of the complaint made against them.
The Investigator’s letter from Department of Health – Should You Respond?
Usually, this starts with a letter from DOH request the licensee either submit a written response to the allegations or be interviewed by investigator, either by phone or in person. The standard letter to a practitioner gives a deadline—usually between 20 and 45 days depending upon the license, to respond to the allegations.
Health care practitioners who get such a letter often make the mistake of either ignoring the letter completely or communicating with the investigator without the advice of an experienced health care attorney who is familiar with the DOH process. In some rare instances, a response might resolve the matter. However, in most situations what you provide to the investigator can …and often will…be used against you.
Initial complaint investigations are confidential under Florida Law, however, once formal charges are filed against the licensee in a document known as an “Administrative Complaint” the allegations become a matter of public record.
In the early stages, before the Administrative Complaint is filed, a thorough review and legal analysis may benefit the licensed health care professional because an experienced health care attorney may after requesting the investigative file from DOH be able to convince the Department’s prosecutor of factors which might result in the charges being dropped. However, this is a rare happening, but it is important to point out that some allegations do not rise to the level of a true violation of your professional practice act.
What are Your Options if You are Served with an Administrative Complaint?
If an Administrative Complaint is filed by DOH, the practitioner is served with a copy and given 21 days to file a response, known as the Election of Rights (EOR) form. The options at this point usually are limited to:
- Informal Hearing-where you admit to the truth of the allegations and argue for lesser penalties before your professional Board.
- Formal Hearing—where you ask for a formal trial before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to challenge the allegations.
- Waive your rights—where you waive your rights to notice, to object, or challenge the case at all. [I never advise my clients to choose this option].
- Settlement Agreement—in some instances the DOH offers you upfront a settlement agreement. Other times, an experienced attorney may be able to leverage a better agreement out of the prosecutor.
Obviously, the licensed health care provider should seek legal counsel at this point. Not responding properly or handling the case ineptly can result in possible revocation of one’s license.
There is a range of disciplinary sanctions that can be imposed in a typical case. If the allegations are hard to dispute then the goal is usually to mitigate the damage by arguing for lesser penalties. The scope of penalties range from fines to letters of guidance, to reprimand, probation, community service, CME courses, monitoring or revocation of one’s license. The Department of Health prosecutors have some discretion in recommending what the penalties will be, but it is the professional Board which decides what sanctions are actually imposed.
An experienced health care license defense attorney can assist a practitioner throughout the administrative process and work hard towards possible dismissal and if that is not possible aggressively review all documents, evidence and pertinent law in an effort to obtain the most reasonable terms with the Board for resolution of the case.
For more on the administrative complaint process see:
If you have received a notice of investigation or an administrative complaint from the Florida Department of Health or the Agency for Health Care Administration it is important to seek the advice of an attorney who is experienced dealing with these government agencies. To schedule a free no obligation consultation with attorney Jeff Howell contact the law firm of Howell, Buchan & Strong, Attorneys at Law call 850-877-7776 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We serve health care professionals throughout Florida and out of state professionals who have questions about licensing and regulations under Florida law.