Occupational therapists play a vital role in the health care system, helping patients with mobility and other physical challenges learn how to navigate daily life. With an aging population, the demand for occupational therapists is projected to grow much faster than average over the next decade.
Because of the combination of skills required to effectively and safely deliver occupational therapy, the education, testing, and practice requirements for occupational therapists are high. While they vary from state to state, generally speaking, in order to be eligible to become a licensed occupational therapist (OT), you must have a bachelor's or master's degree in occupational therapy from an approved OT college-level program or a certificate from an approved OT program if you have a college degree in another field. You may also be required to have a certain amount of supervised clinical experience, which will typically be part of an approved OT college major.
On top of this, you'll need to take and pass a national examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). Then after you're certified by the NBCOT, you need to maintain your expertise by completing a certain number of continuing education activities over a three-year period if you want to renew your certification for another three-year term.
All of this means that as a licensed OT, you have invested a tremendous amount of effort into earning and maintaining the license to practice occupational therapy in your state. It also means that if a formal complaint is filed against you, either with your state or with the NBCOT, you need to take it seriously because your license or your certificate to practice occupational therapy may be at risk. Losing the ability to practice as an OT after all of the time, effort, and money that you've spent earning and maintaining it could have a devastating effect on your future.
This is why it's important to contact an attorney with experience representing healthcare clients such as occupational therapists in professional license disciplinary situations. There are specific laws, rules, and procedures that apply to OT license complaints, and working with an attorney who understands how the complaint process works will make it much more likely that the outcome will be one in which you will continue to be able to work as a licensed OT. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team have just that kind of experience, having represented healthcare professionals, including occupational therapists, in license discipline situations nationwide.
Situations That May Result in Complaints
While each state licensing board has its own standards, there are some general situations that can result in a state board filing charges against a licensed OT. These include:
- Abusing the relationship with the patient for personal gain;
- Failing to maintain accurate patient records;
- Withholding a patient's medical records;
- Violating the patient's right of confidentiality;
- Intimidating, harassing, or abusing patients;
- Sexually abusing a patient;
- Practicing while under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- Failing to disclose criminal convictions.
The Complaint Resolution Process
Generally speaking, state licensing boards will review and manage complaints in a similar way. Typical steps include:
- Evaluation of the complaint to make sure the matter is one that the board has the power to regulate. For example, license boards typically do not regulate situations where the OT and the patient have clashing personalities and do not get along or ones where the OT refuses to provide treatment demanded by the patient where that treatment is not medically advisable.
- Investigation of complaints that fall within the licensing board's scope of authority. This can involve gathering documentation about the reported misconduct, witness interviews, and even site visits.
- A decision by the licensing authority after an investigation about whether to issue charges against the OT and, if so, what the charges will be.
- In some cases, there will be a settlement conference after the charges are issued, where the OT may have an opportunity to accept a penalty proposed by the licensing authority and avoid a formal hearing.
- If the matter isn't resolved, there will usually be a formal hearing, at which both the licensing authority and the OT may introduce written evidence and present and question witnesses.
- At the close of the hearing, a ruling will issue either in favor of the OT or in favor of the licensing authority.
- If the ruling is in favor of the licensing authority and against the OT, the licensing authority will impose a penalty against the OT.
Appeals from the disciplinary hearing are typically allowed but will be limited in scope to procedural or legal errors that were made during the hearing and won't be a re-trial of the hearing.
State licensing boards can typically impose a range of penalties. These can include a private reprimand that does not appear on the OT's public record; a formal public censure; a monetary fine; probation involving restrictions on the OT's practice, a requirement that the OT be supervised or undertake additional education; or license suspension.
In the case of complaints based on substance abuse, the OT may be allowed to enter into a treatment program on a confidential basis, sometimes while surrendering their license during the period of treatment.
The NBCOT maintains its own disciplinary procedures that can result in the revocation of an OT's certification to practice. An OT may be disciplined for misconduct similar to what can cause them to lose their state license; in addition, if the OT is dishonest with the NBCOT during the examination registration or renewal process, the OT can also take action. Discipline is administered by the NBCOT's Qualifications and Compliance Review Committee (QCRC).
The NBCOT disciplinary procedures are similar to those that many states will use to discipline OTs and can include a voluntary agreement to sanctions proposed by the NBCOT as well as a formal hearing where no such agreement is reached. Appeals of QCRC decisions are made to the NBCOT Directors, which have the ability to consider not only evidence introduced at the disciplinary hearing but also additional evidence as well.
The NBCOT may privately reprimand an OT; publicly censure the OT; place the OT on probation with practice restrictions or additional supervisory requirements; or suspend the OT's certification. If the OT's certification is suspended by the NBCOT, the OT will not be able to practice as an OT in their home state.
You Need the Help of an Experienced Professional License Defense Attorney
If you have been notified that someone has filed a complaint against you, either with your state's OT licensing authority or with the NBCOT, you need to take immediate steps to protect your license and your ability to practice occupational therapy. The most effective step you can take is to contact an experienced professional license defense attorney. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team have years of experience representing healthcare professionals, including occupational therapists, in license disciplinary proceedings nationwide.
They understand how the process works, what the legal standards are, how to gather and present evidence in their client's defense, and how to negotiate with licensing authorities to arrive at an outcome that is most likely to protect their client's ability to practice occupational therapy. And if matters proceed to a disciplinary hearing, Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team have the kind of in-court experience that makes them extremely effective advocates for their clients.
If you are an occupational therapist who is facing a disciplinary proceeding, call Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team today. You can reach them at 888.535.3686, or through their online contact form.