As a licensed healthcare professional in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, you know that your career is built on trust. Your patients trust you to provide them with high-quality care, and they rely on you to have their best interests at heart. The state of Pennsylvania also trusts you to uphold the standards of your profession and to act in accordance with the law.
However, there are times when the state may question whether or not you are living up to that trust--and all it may take is a single allegation of wrongdoing to put your career at risk. If you are under investigation by your licensing board, it is important to understand the process and to know your rights.
Professional License Defense Attorney in Bethlehem, PA
On a professional level, the experience of being charged with misconduct by the state licensing board can be one of the worst things imaginable. Being notified about an investigation can be very stressful and confusing, especially if you are unclear about what is happening or why. In these situations, it is essential that you seek the advice of an experienced attorney who understands the professional license disciplinary process and who has extensive knowledge of your particular industry. With the right legal support, you stand a much better chance of keeping your license and obtaining a favorable outcome. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is an experienced Pennsylvania license defense attorney with extensive experience defending healthcare professionals and other licensed professionals who are accused of wrongdoing. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case.
How a License Investigation Can Endanger Your Career
If you are found guilty in a professional license investigation, it could easily mean the end of your career. The licensing boards have broad authority to impose disciplinary actions and a low burden of proof to decide whether you've committed wrongdoing. If you are accused of something, the investigation could harm your professional reputation and make it harder to get hired--even if you are ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing. Hiring an attorney sooner rather than later can help reduce this risk.
The Disciplinary Process for Licensed Professionals in Bethlehem, PA
If you're a licensed physician, nurse, or another health professional in Pennsylvania, and you're accused of violating the state's ethical or professional standards, the state licensing board that granted you your license will decide what disciplinary action, if any, to take.
The process for disciplining professionals, including those in healthcare, is a uniform process in the State of Pennsylvania. Any disciplinary process moves through the following stages.
The state licensing boards usually initiate disciplinary actions against license holders after receiving a formal complaint. The State of Pennsylvania has a centralized process by which members of the public may file a complaint directly to the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (BPOA). Most complaints against healthcare professionals are filed by:
- Other practitioners
- Insurers (in cases of suspected fraud)
- Healthcare facilities
After the BPOA gets a complaint, they assign an investigator from the Bureau of Enforcement and Investigation (BEI) to conduct an evaluation. This involves talking to witnesses, collecting evidence, subpoenaing records if necessary, and asking for your written feedback about the case. The BEI investigator may also attempt to visit your practice unannounced. We advise you to decline to answer an investigator's questions unless your attorney is present.
If the investigator's findings don't support the complaint, the board can dismiss it. If there is enough evidence, though, the case will go on.
If there is enough evidence of wrongdoing that disciplinary action is likely, the licensing board may try to negotiate a consent agreement with you as an alternative to calling a formal hearing. A consent agreement is a binding arrangement in which you voluntarily submit to the board's recommendations for disciplinary action. This isn't always the best course of action, but if you don't have enough evidence to refute the complaint, it could be the best solution--especially if a good attorney negotiates the agreement to include a path toward reinstatement of your license.
If, after investigating the complaint, the board decides not to dismiss it or reach a consent agreement with you, you will be summoned to a formal hearing before the state examiner. At this hearing, you will have to explain why you should be allowed to keep your professional license. You may have a lawyer present to represent you. The examiner will present the licensing board with recommendations for disciplinary actions at the hearing's conclusion, which could be anything from a formal reprimand or probation to completely revoking your license.
The Benefits of Working with an Experienced License Defense Attorney
Healthcare professionals who are accused of misconduct often don't realize how serious the problem is. They mistakenly believe that the licensing board will quickly and easily dismiss the complaint against them, especially if they simply "explain the situation" to the board. Unfortunately, that's often not the case. The state licensing board has a duty to protect the public, so when a complaint is lodged against one of its licensees, there's no guaranteed presumption of innocence. In the board's view, they would rather err on the side of caution to ensure the public trust is protected. This puts you at a disadvantage from the beginning.
However, with the help of an experienced Pennsylvania license defense attorney, you can level the playing field and give yourself a better chance at a favorable outcome. Your attorney can:
- Conduct their own investigation into the complaint and gather evidence to support your defense
- Handle all communications with the licensing board on your behalf, so you don't inadvertently say something that could be used against you
- Draft a compelling written response to the complaint, which could result in the complaint being dismissed with no further action
- Negotiate with the board to dismiss the complaint or impose lighter penalties.
- If necessary, defend you vigorously at a formal hearing.
Healthcare Services in Bethlehem, PA
Situated in the center of the Lehigh Valley in eastern PA, the City of Bethlehem is home to about 76,000 people. The Lehigh Valley itself is a populous metropolitan region serving as home to more than 800,000 people. As such, several hospitals and outpatient facilities in Bethlehem are responsible for the care of the population. These health systems have high standards of ethics, professionalism, and accountability for their physicians, nurses, and other staff. If allegations of wrongdoing are made, it could result in termination.
Main health systems serving the Bethlehem area include:
St. Luke's University Health
St. Luke's University Health is the preeminent Catholic healthcare system in eastern PA, with a dozen hospitals and more than 300 outpatient facilities region-wide. The 400-bed Bethlehem campus serves as St. Luke's flagship hospital, operating the city's primary Level 1 trauma center.
Lehigh Valley Health Network
Lehigh Valley Health operates 13 hospitals in multiple counties across eastern PA, as well as numerous outpatient primary care, specialty care, and urgent care facilities. The Bethlehem hospital campus, LVH-Muhlenberg, operates a Level II trauma center and offers specialized cardiovascular and cancer care, among other specialties.
Types of Allegations that Could Endanger Your License
In Pennsylvania, the Board of Medicine oversees the licensure and discipline of physicians and surgeons. The Board of Nursing oversees registered nurses and licensed practical nurses. The Board of Dentistry regulates dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants. These boards have the authority to investigate complaints and impose disciplinary actions against licensees accused of misconduct.
Some of the most common allegations that could lead to an investigation and possible disciplinary action by a healthcare licensing board in Pennsylvania include the following.
Examples include having an inappropriate romantic/sexual relationship with a patient, sexual harassment of patients or coworkers, etc. Sexual misconduct typically results in loss of license if the allegations are substantiated.
Inappropriate prescribing or dispensing of controlled substances
Due to the dangers of drug abuse, Pennsylvania has instated rigorous rules that medical professionals must follow when dispensing drugs. If they do not adhere to these standards, they could lose their license. Examples include:
- Prescribing medicines without a legitimate reason to do so
- Overprescribing certain kinds of medicines (e.g., opioids)
- Keeping inaccurate inventories of medications
- Pilfering medications for personal use
- Dispensing medications without a prescription
Fraud can encompass a variety of behaviors, including, but not limited to:
Charging patients or billing insurance for services not provided
Upcoding (i.e., billing insurance for a more expensive service than the one actually provided)
Altering medical records
Accepting kickbacks for referrals
False advertising practices
Misrepresenting your credentials
Conviction of a crime
A conviction for certain crimes may disqualify you from the practice of medicine, nursing, or dentistry. Crimes related to your profession or classified as a crime of moral turpitude are especially likely grounds for disqualification.
Patient abuse/gross neglect
This can encompass various behaviors, from failing to provide adequate medical care to patients to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. It also includes such violations as breaching patient confidentiality, mistakes in prescribing/dispensing medications, or performing procedures that are deemed unnecessary or unnecessarily risky.
Because drug and alcohol abuse can seriously impede healthcare professionals' judgment, it is seen as casting doubt on your competence at best, and breaking of public trust at worst.
Medical professionals are expected to keep accurate and complete patient records. Poor record-keeping can indicate a larger problem, such as substance abuse or fraud. It can also lead to errors in patient care if important information is not properly documented.
Failing to follow treatment guidelines
If you do not follow a doctor's orders for a patient's care, you could be disciplined. Additionally, if you fail to refer a patient who needs specialist care to the appropriate specialist, your license could be at risk.
When to Hire an Attorney
The state licensing board has an obligation to inform you if they've received a complaint against you and whether an investigation is underway. If you receive this notice, the time to hire an attorney is as soon as possible. Waiting until you're summoned to a formal hearing may be a mistake because by that time, the board will have already built a case against you. The sooner you hire an experienced professional license defense attorney, the better your chances of avoiding a hearing and receiving a more favorable outcome.
Professional License Defense in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
If you are a doctor, nurse, dentist, or other medical professional in Bethlehem, PA, your career and livelihood hinge upon your license. If you are facing disciplinary action from your licensing board, it is crucial to have an experienced license defense attorney on your side to make sure your rights are protected and to safeguard your career. At the Lento Law Firm, we offer professional license defense services to the following professionals in Bethlehem, PA:
- Nurse practitioners
- Physician assistants
- Mental health professionals
- Physical therapists
- Additional licensed professionals
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many licensed healthcare professionals like you who have found themselves in jeopardy over a complaint. Don't allow a misunderstanding or unfortunate incident to derail everything you've worked for. Call the Lento Law firm today at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation.