Arizona Appeals Court Affirms Dentist’s Suspension Over Questionable Prescriptions

1 Indest-2008-1By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On December 13, 2016, an Arizona appeals court affirmed the suspension of a dentist who allegedly had a history of opioid addiction and who also allegedly wrote dozens of questionable prescriptions. The Arizona appeals court held that the state dental board didn’t violate his due process rights and had substantial evidence backing its decision that it wasn’t safe for him to practice.

The Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, concluded that the Arizona State Board of Dental Examiners had acted within its authority by suspending Dr. Michael Wassef’s license to practice dentistry in the state. This was following Dr. Wassef’s refusal to submit to the dental board’s requests after it discovered evidence suggesting he had relapsed. The appeals court decision upheld a lower court’s decision affirming the dental board’s order.

History of Opioid Abuse?

Dr. Wassef’s possible relapse into opioid addiction reportedly first came to the attention of authorities in March 2014. This allegedly occurred when a pharmacist contacted the dental board to raise concerns about Dr. Wassef’s prescription-writing practices, according to the court’s decision. The board discovered that he had received prescriptions for controlled substances in increasing amounts over a six-year time period. Additionally, Dr. Wassef allegedly wrote 44 prescriptions in two years for the muscle relaxant Soma for his wife, his assistant and his assistant’s daughter, the opinion said.

After he tested positive for Soma and another medication, Dr. Wassef refused to submit to an assessment. As a result, the dental board issued an interim order that he obtain an inpatient substance-abuse evaluation, according to the opinion. He refused, and the dental board suspended his license in April 2014.

Arizona State Court Sides With Board.

Dr. Wassef contended that the board denied him due process by suspending his license without allowing him the opportunity to defend himself. Despite Wassef’s claims, the appeals court wasn’t swayed, explaining that the board didn’t have to give him a hearing before entering the interim order and can summarily suspend a licensee when it concludes.

The state board had more than enough evidence to conclude that Dr. Wassef was unsafe to practice dentistry, the appeals court panel held. “Under these circumstances, the board was not required to accept Dr. Wassef’s explanations and Dr. Wassef did not disprove the board’s suspicions,” the panel held. “Thus, the dental board had reasonable grounds to take emergency action to prevent harm to the public.”

To read the decision on this matter, click here.

To read more on the repercussions of choices such as this, click here to read one of my prior blogs.

Serious Allegations Need Serious Legal Representation.

When a dentist, physician, nurse, psychologist, pharmacist, or other licensed health professional is accused of drug abuse or alcohol abuse, this is a very serious matter. As happened in this case, your license can be suspended putting you out of work and terminating your ability to pay for a legal defense.

Several things are a must. You must have good professional liability insurance that pays for the legal defense of complaints filed against your license, preferable with $50,000 or more of coverage for this type of event. Second, you must immediately retain experience health care legal counsel who deals with these types of cases routinely. Often there are options to such a harsh remedy as a suspension. Additionally, all the time spent from initial notification of the complaint, should be used in obtaining evidence to show that the dentist is not currently impaired. This can be routine random urinalysis testing, treatment with psychiatrist and certified addictions professionals, evaluation by special physicians health programs and other actions.

Usually, suspension is only appropriate when the physicians condition makes him an immediate threat to patient safety. Being able to prove that the physician is not a threat is te key to preventing a suspension. Also, using the time and money in appealing such a decision may, in may cases, be better used in requesting an emergency hearing and getting the evidence needed for that hearing.

Consult With An Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Dentists and Other Health Professionals.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents dentists, dental technicians, pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

The lawyers of The Health Law Firm are experienced in both formal and informal administrative hearings and in representing dentists and dental hygienists and other health professionals in investigations and at Board of dentistry hearings and other legal matters. Call now or visit our website www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Sources:

Posses, Shayna. “Ariz. Court Backs Dentist’s Suspension Over Dubious Scripts.” Law360. (December 13, 2016). Web.

“Arizona Court Backs Dentist’s Suspension.” Lexis Nexis. (December 13, 2016). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

KeyWords: Legal representation for dentists, defense attorney for dentists, legal counsel for dentists and dental assistants, defense attorney for health care professionals, DEA investigation defense attorney, legal representation for DEA investigations, legal representation for board investigations, defense attorney for board of dentistry matters, reviews of The Health Law Firm, The Health Law Firm attorney reviews, dental board defense work, dental board investigations, impaired dentists, impaired professionals, physician health programs, administrative hearings, complaint investigation defense attorney for dentists, appeals (and variations on appeal ) of adverse license action, license revocation, emergency suspension orders, appeals of emergency suspension orders, Professionals Resources Network (PRN) attorney, Florida dentist defense attorney, Virginia dentist defense lawyer, Louisiana dentist defense legal counsel, Colorado dentist defense lawyer, Kentucky legal dentist defense counsel, District of Columbia dentist legal representation

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of and a registered service mark of The Health Law Firm, P.A., a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 2016 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Locating a Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance Defense Attorney in Florida Company Cases

8 Indest-2008-5By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

We are sometimes told by the health professionals we represent especially pharmacists, licensed mental health counselors (LMHCs), advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs), massage therapists and physical therapists that after they received a complaint regarding their license from the Florida Department of Health (DOH) they had difficulty finding an experienced attorney in Florida who would accept their professional liability insurance.  In this case, I am speaking specifically about Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Insurance.

HPSO Insurance Helps Cover Costly Legal Fees.

The professionals who are covered by HPSO Insurance have excellent insurance coverage.  HPSO Insurance provides professional liability coverage that protects in the event of a lawsuit or negligence claim.  But much more often the professional receives a notice of an investigation, a subpoena for a deposition in someone else’s case, a demand because of an allegation of sexual harassment or sexual impropriety, a complaint because of a breach of medical records confidentiality or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy complaint, or some other administrative type of action.

HPSO provides great coverage for these.  For example, HPSO currently reimburses up to $10,000 in legal fees and expenses just for representation of you at depositions.  HPSO currently reimburses up to $25,000 in legal fees and expenses for your defense in a DOH or Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) notice of investigation or complaint.  HPSO currently reimburses up to $25,000 in legal fees and expenses for your legal representation in defense of a complaint or investigation regarding breach of medical confidentiality.

If you are a pharmacist, own a pharmacy, are a massage therapist, own an assisted living facility (ALF), are a mental health counselor or a social worker, or you are one of the many other types of health care professionals who HPSO insures, it should be fairly easy to find experienced health lawyers to represent you, especially in Florida.

Our firm and our attorneys, including George F. Indest III, Michael L. Smith, Joanne Kenna, Carole C. Schriefer, Lance O. Leider, Christopher E. Brown and Danielle M. Murray, routinely represent licensed health care professionals, interns and students in all types of administrative investigations and hearings and in defending lawsuits and other actions that have been filed.  We also represent health facilities in license defense, survey complaints and administrative hearings.  We represent them throughout Florida, from Pensacola to Jacksonville, to Key West.  We also occasionally represent them in other states, as well.  We accept HPSO Insurance assignments.

 

It’s Time to Get Insurance.

It is very important for every health professional to carry insurance that covers any investigation, complaint or administrative hearing that might be filed or opened against your license.  You may think that you are covered for this by your employer, but you are not.  If your employer contradicts this, ask for a statement in writing that your employer will pay for your legal defense for any such matter arising during your employment.

What typically happens, especially in the case of a hospital employee, nursing home employee, pharmacy employee or corporate employee, is that the employer is the one who terminates the employee and then files a complaint with the DOH.  The DOH then opens an investigation against the health professional.  The employer is not going to pay your legal defense costs if the employer has reported you.

You may very well be out of work, out of money and face an investigation and complaint that could terminate your professional license and career.  You should not take this chance.  Insurance such as HPSO Insurance is inexpensive and reliable.  Buy it while you can afford it. After the actions have occurred, it is too late.

Contact an Experienced Health Law Attorney if You are Contacted by an Investigator.

Also, you should immediately contact an experienced health law attorney if you are telephoned or visited by any investigator, or if you receive a letter advising you that an investigation has been opened regarding your care.  Call immediately for advice before you speak with an investigator or provide any documents or statements of any kind.

You cannot and should not seek “legal advice” on what to do from the investigator, from a DOH employee, from your professional board or from any attorney representing any of them.  They are not your friends.  They are on the side against you. You should definitely not take any advice from them.

Understand all Insurance Policies are Not the Same.

If you have good insurance, it will pay for your legal expenses from the very beginning, so use it.  However, beware of cheap insurance policies from professional associations that do not provide any coverage for disciplinary complaints and licensure investigations.  Always check to be sure this is covered.  Get it in writing.  With some companies you have to pay an extra premium to obtain this coverage.  With some insurers, they do not offer it, and you have to purchase a completely separate policy covering just this.  It is worth it!  Do it!

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Representing Health Care Professionals and Providers.

Our firm regularly represents physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, massage therapists, mental health counselors, registered nurses (RNs), assisted living facilities (ALFs), home health agencies, nurse practitioners, lab technicians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, physician assistants, psychologists and other health professionals in many different legal matters.

Services we provide include representation before your professional board in DOH investigations, in administrative hearings, in civil litigation, in defense of malpractice claims, in professional licensing matters, in defense of allegations concerning HIPAA privacy violations and medical record breaches, in Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) actions, and in many other matters.

In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company.  If allowed, we will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company.

We also defend health professionals and health facilities in general litigation matters and business litigation matters.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

Do you have professional liability insurance? Why or why not. Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

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. 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.

Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.