As a licensed dental hygienist in New Jersey, you've worked hard to earn your degree and pass your licensing exams and spent years developing a career helping others. Ironically, all it may take to erase those years of hard work is a single complaint from a disgruntled patient or an allegation of wrongdoing by a colleague. The New Jersey State Board of Dentistry holds its licensees to high ethical and professional standards. It takes allegations of misconduct seriously and may move aggressively to discipline those who violate those standards—including revoking their licenses to practice. In short, your career hinges on your license, and if that license comes under scrutiny, your livelihood may be at risk.
The good news is that you don't have to go through the disciplinary process alone. An experienced New Jersey license defense attorney can help you navigate the system, protect your rights, and give you the best chance of keeping your license in the face of accusations. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has significant experience working with professionals in your position. He regularly defends licensed professionals against allegations of misconduct and knows how to achieve positive outcomes for his clients. If you're a New Jersey dental hygienist and your license is in jeopardy, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case.
Types of Allegations that Could Cost You Your Dental Hygienist License
There are many different types of allegations that could lead to a licensing investigation and possible disciplinary action by the New Jersey State Board of Dentistry. Some of the most common include:
- Sexual misconduct. Acts of sexual harassment or making unwanted sexual advances toward employees or patients can cost you your license.
- Unprofessional/fraudulent conduct. These offenses include things such as false advertisement, misrepresenting your credentials, altering patient records, filing fraudulent insurance claims, or unprofessionalism with patients.
- Substance abuse. Alcohol or drug abuse can impair your ability to perform your duties as a dental hygienist and put patients at risk. The board may discipline you if it believes you have substance abuse problems.
- Conviction of a crime. A criminal conviction--even for something unrelated to your work as a dental hygienist--could lead to disciplinary action by the board.
- Inappropriate handling of medications. Examples include administering medications improperly, keeping inaccurate inventories, or diverting medications for personal use.
The License Disciplinary Process in New Jersey
The disciplinary process against licensed professionals in New Jersey follows a fairly uniform pattern. In the case of dental hygienists, most actions begin with a formal complaint filed with the State Board of Dentistry. A complainant could be a patient, colleague, or some other member of the public. The board itself may also initiate proceedings if it becomes aware of possible misconduct through some other means (for example, if they are notified by the courts that you have been convicted of a crime).
Once a complaint has been lodged, the disciplinary process moves forward as follows:
Request for Response
The board will notify you of the complaint against you and request that you reply in writing. If you provide a detailed explanation of what happened backed by supporting evidence, the board may dismiss the complaint without further action. An experienced license defense attorney can help draft a convincing response.
Next, the board submits the complaint to a Preliminary Evaluation Committee (PEC) for the investigation phase. The PEC appoints an investigator to see whether there is evidence to support the complaint. The investigator will likely interview the complainant and any witnesses, subpoena documentation, etc. You may also be required to testify under oath before the PEC.
If the evidence suggests that the board should take disciplinary action against you, it might offer to negotiate a consent order with you to bypass a formal hearing. A consent order is a legally binding agreement in which you agree to comply with the board's recommendations for discipline. Although a consent order may not be advisable in all cases, it may be the best solution if there is compelling evidence against you, particularly if the agreement allows you to keep your license or provides you with a pathway for reinstatement.
In the absence of a consent order, you will be summoned to a formal hearing before an administrative Law Judge (ALJ), where you will show cause why your license should not be revoked. You may have an attorney with you at this hearing. If the ALJ finds that the evidence against your case is persuasive, they will recommend disciplinary action to the board. The board will make the final decision on discipline, up to and including revoking your dental hygienist's license.
Why You Should Hire a New Jersey Professional License Defense Attorney
The State Board of Dentistry in New Jersey has a duty to protect the safety of the public at all times and at all costs. It has broad authority to take disciplinary action and a low burden of proof to find you guilty of wrongdoing. From the moment a complaint is filed, the board is actively looking for evidence to substantiate the claim, and there is no guaranteed presumption of innocence. Without an experienced attorney by your side, you're at a distinct disadvantage.
A good attorney can help you understand the charges against you and what to expect at each stage of the process. They can also review the allegations, draft a compelling written response, and prepare a strong defense on your behalf. In some cases, it may be possible to negotiate a favorable consent order to avoid a formal hearing or to have the charges against you dismissed altogether. In short, your chances of keeping your license go up considerably with an experienced New Jersey license defense attorney in your corner.
If you are a dental hygienist in New Jersey and your license is under investigation, your choices can significantly impact your career and your future. Protect your livelihood by hiring an attorney who understands the system and can work on your behalf for the best possible resolution. For more information on how we can help you defend your professional license in New Jersey, call the Lento Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686.