As a licensed physician, dentist, nurse, or another type of healthcare provider in Lakewood Township, NJ, you play a vital role in serving the community. And your career has come at no small cost, between the time and money invested in education, field experience, etc. That's why it can be such a crisis when someone files a complaint against your license. The New Jersey state licensing boards hold their licensees to high ethical and professional standards. They have broad power to suspend or revoke the licenses of those they believe have betrayed the public trust. All it may take is a single allegation of wrongdoing to throw your career into jeopardy.
If you find yourself in this scenario, the best way to save your license is to hire an experienced license defense attorney at the first sign of trouble. Joseph D. Lento is a New Jersey-based attorney with extensive experience defending healthcare professionals and other licensed professionals accused of misconduct. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case.
The Disciplinary Process for Healthcare Professionals in New Jersey
The state licensing board that granted your professional license will also investigate any allegations against you and determine what disciplinary action, if any, to take. For example, if you're a physician, you'll answer to the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners; if you're a nurse, it's the State Board of Nursing; and if you're a dentist, it's the State Board of Dentistry, and so on. Although each board has different procedures, most professional licensees go through a similar disciplinary process when complaints are filed against their license. Here is an overview of the typical steps involved in the discipline process.
The majority of licensure investigations come from complaints. Anyone can receive a formal complaint against you from the licensing board, but the most frequent sources are:
- Insurers (in cases of suspected fraud)
- Healthcare facilities
You may also be notified of a license investigation if you have recently been convicted of a crime because the courts often notify state licensing boards of these actions. It is also possible that the board might issue a temporary suspension of your license over a criminal conviction while the matter is under investigation.
Request for Response
Once a complaint has been filed, the licensing board will notify you of the complaint and ask you to respond in writing to the allegations. Don't ignore the opportunity to issue this response, as it is your opportunity to provide context for whatever did or did not happen. The board might dismiss the complaint without further action if you provide a compelling explanation and evidence supporting your points. A skilled license defense lawyer can help you draft a convincing written response.
The next step in the disciplinary process is for the board to launch a full investigation into the complaint. They will typically appoint a Preliminary Evaluation Committee to supervise the process, along with an investigator to gather the necessary information and evidence. Investigations may involve interviews with the complainant and with other witnesses, requests for documents for review, and other fact-finding activities. You may also be asked to appear before the PEC to testify under oath.
If the board finds enough evidence to take disciplinary action, they might try to negotiate a consent order with you as an alternative to having a formal hearing. A consent order is an agreement that you sign to show that you understand your wrongdoing and will agree to follow the disciplinary actions recommended by the board. (It serves a similar purpose as a plea agreement would during a criminal prosecution, except that a license investigation is not a criminal matter). Agreeing to a consent order isn't the best choice in all cases, but it can be an effective option if the evidence against you is strong, especially if it provides a path to have your license reinstated. A skilled license defense attorney can negotiate the best terms in a consent order. Because a consent order is legally binding, you should never sign one without having an attorney review it.
If a consent order is not offered or accepted, the licensing board will submit a formal complaint against your license to the state. An Administrative Law Judge will preside over the hearing, and both you and the board's legal team will have the opportunity to present evidence and call witnesses. After the hearing, the ALJ will suggest to the licensing board what disciplinary action should be taken against your license, up to and including a full revocation of the license itself.
Why Hire a Lakewood Township Professional License Defense Attorney
Many licensed professionals fail to grasp the seriousness of having a complaint against their license. They believe they can resolve the matter just by explaining the situation to the licensing board, especially for seemingly minor offenses. However, the licensing board's job is to protect the public and not the license holder. They take misconduct allegations seriously and have broad authority to issue disciplinary actions with a low burden of proof. They can find you guilty of misconduct on the basis of preponderance of the evidence, meaning they only have to be convinced that you are more than 50 percent likely to have committed wrongdoing. They will also consider everything you say or do after receiving your complaint as potential evidence against you. This puts you at a distinct disadvantage because you're not necessarily presumed innocent.
A skilled license defense attorney can help you level the playing field in a license investigation. In many cases, an attorney's intervention is enough to resolve a complaint before it becomes a disciplinary matter. A New Jersey attorney who has experience with state licensing boards will know how the process works and can position you for maximum advantage. Having a good attorney greatly increases your chances that the board will dismiss the complaint or impose a lesser punishment that doesn't result in your losing your license.
A Lakewood Township licensed professional defense attorney can help you:
- Examine the allegations against you and devise an appropriate defense strategy.
- Draft a persuasive written response to the complaint, improving your chances of having the complaint dropped with no further action.
- Assume the role of your legal representative in all interactions between you and the board.
- Collect evidence and procure witnesses to support your side of the story.
- Negotiate with the board at multiple points for lenient penalties or full dismissal of the complaint.
- If necessary, defend you vigorously at the formal hearing.
Healthcare Institutions in Lakewood Township, NJ
One of the fastest-growing communities in New Jersey, Lakewood Township has grown by more than 45 percent over the past decade to its current population of 135,000. Numerous facilities dot this region to provide needed healthcare to residents of Lakewood Township, nearby Toms River, and other outlying communities. The largest hospitals and care facilities are clustered in a complex on the south end of Lakewood Township along River Avenue (U.S.-9), with other facilities scattered across the region.
Main healthcare facilities in Lakewood Township include, but are not limited to:
Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus
The township's largest hospital facility, Monmouth Medical Center, is affiliated with RWJBarnabas Health, one of New Jersey's largest healthcare systems. Monmouth South offers a full array of services, including all-private rooms in its inpatient center.
Specialty Hospital of Central New Jersey
Located adjacent to Monmouth South, Specialty Hospital of Central New Jersey is a small, independent hospital focused on treating complex medical issues and offering extended inpatient treatment.
Garden State Medical Center
Located in nearby Brick Township, Garden State Medical Center is a facility focused specifically on orthopedic and pain management, with specialists covering a broad spectrum of conditions. They specialize in non-surgical and minimally invasive procedures.
Allegations or Offenses that Could Put Your Professional License in Danger
To maintain a professional license in New Jersey, you must follow strict ethical and behavioral standards as set by the laws of your state and your licensing board. Most claims that could revoke your license will be due to a breach of ethics, trust, or state regulations. Below are some of the most common offenses that could result in disciplinary action by a licensing board.
Fraud can be defined as a range of deceitful and misleading practices, including:
- False advertising
- Misrepresenting your credentials (e.g., posing as a physician when you are not licensed as such)
- Performing services you're not licensed to provide
- Overbilling patients
- Billing insurance for services not provided or "upcoding" procedures to get more money from insurance
- Falsifying patient diagnosis
- Accepting kickbacks for referrals
Gross Abuse or Neglect
This includes any neglect or abuse that could pose a risk to the safety and well-being of a patient. Examples include:
- Abuse of any kind (e.g., physical, sexual, emotional)
- Unintentional abuse (e.g., pushing a patient over their emotional/physical limit)
- Violating patient confidentiality
- Medical errors (e.g., prescribing the wrong medication/dosage or performing unnecessary procedures)
Inappropriate Handling of Controlled Substances
This violation could also be considered a medical error, but it is important enough to be recognized as its own category. Examples include:
- Overprescribing certain "risky" medications (e.g., opioids)
- Inadequate inventory tracking or record keeping
- Diverting prescription drugs for personal use or street sale
- Dispensing medication without a prescription
- Prescribing medications without proper authorization
Sexual misconduct/inappropriate relationships
It is a huge violation of ethics for medical professionals to have sexual or romantic relationships with the patients they treat. Additionally, any type of sexual harassment or inappropriate sexual behavior usually is grounds for having a license revoked.
In the healthcare industry, patient safety is paramount, and accurate patient records are essential to ensure safety. Your license could be at risk if you are accused of faulty record-keeping, such as falsifying patient records, keeping records in a messy or cursive manner, or compromising patient confidentiality.
Failing to follow accepted protocols or instructions for patient treatment
Examples of this violation include failing to follow a doctor's orders for one of his/her patients or failing to refer a patient for specialist care when it is medically necessary.
Your license could be revoked if you drink excessively or abuse prescription or illegal drugs. Most licensing boards consider substance abuse unacceptable as it can compromise your ability to care for patients.
Certain criminal convictions can disqualify you from holding a professional license in New Jersey--for example, DWI, crimes directly related to your profession, or crimes of moral turpitude. Failure to report a recent conviction could also result in disciplinary action.
Professional License Defense in Lakewood Township, New Jersey
Don't make the mistake of assuming any allegation against your license is minor. A single complaint can trigger an investigation by the state licensing board that could potentially end your career. You can greatly reduce your risk in this situation by hiring a Lakewood Township licensed defense attorney such as Joseph D. Lento. The Lento Law Firm can assist with license defense matters for any of the following professions in Lakewood Township.
- Nurse practitioners
- Physician assistants
- Mental health professionals
- Physical therapists
- Other licensed professionals
If you're accused of any type of violation or misconduct, take action now to protect your career. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation.