One of Simas & Associates, Ltd.'s main areas of practice involves representing clients with health care or professional licenses who are under investigation. In June 2017, Simas & Associates achieved a personal record in closing seven different investigations within a week's period. As described below, the majority of these cases involved Veterinary Medical Board investigations spurred by consumer complaints. In addition to these, the firm also achieved case closure on a contentious Physical Therapy Board matter and a long-standing Medical Board of California investigation.
For these licensing boards, all of which fall under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs ("DCA"), these were typical investigations, some of which had gone on for many months or even years. But to our clients, they were disrupting, stressful, and devastating. For this reason, we are celebrating our record success in this blog.
To fully paint the picture of these investigations, we describe their general subject matter blow:
Medical Board of California
We represented a physician who had an employment dispute with his medical group and the corresponding peer review case. As frequently occurs, one licensing or employment dispute results in several–if not dozens–of collateral consequences. Here, the peer review case generated a report pursuant to Business and Professions Code Section 805 ("805 Report") that was sent to the Medical Board of California ("MBC"). Given the nature of the underlying peer review dispute involving patient care, the MBC duteously investigated, interviewing witnesses, reviewing patient records, and ultimately requiring our physician client to attend a face-to-face meeting with the Board's investigator. We successively defended our client, explaining to the Board his ongoing dedication and successful practice, and convinced the Board to close the investigation on this file, notwithstanding whatever the former medical group reported to them.
Physical Therapy Board
In a classic type of investigative situation, the Physical Therapy Board ("PTB") investigated a complaint from a patient of our physical therapist client involving the physical therapist terminating the patient for misconduct while undergoing treatment at the clinic. The patient made inappropriate remarks regarding the physical therapist's staff and then turned around and filed a complaint with the PTB which dutifully investigated them. Given the serious and inflammatory nature of the complaint and the factual background of the incident, we worked diligently with our client and his physical therapy staff to educate the Board regarding what really happened, provide the contents in which the patient complained, and successfully convinced the Board to close its investigation without action. All within a month's time.
Veterinary Medical Board
During this record setting week, Simas & Associates received five notices of case closure from Veterinary Medical Board ("VMB") cases that had been ongoing for periods of time ranging from several months to a couple of years. A brief summary of these complaints is as follows:
New Puppy Exam
Our client received notice from the Veterinary Medical Board (“VMB”) that a complaint had been filed regarding the services provided to a canine puppy that was brought in for her new puppy exam. As with many such cases, the pet owner did not take our client’s advice and would not authorize diagnostics. Instead, she took her pet to another veterinarian and filed a complaint against our client. We responded the VMB, explaining that the treating veterinarian acted reasonably and within the standard of practice for veterinarians in California. The VMB closed its file several months later.
The VMB sent our client notice of complaint regarding the hospital’s teeth cleaning procedure and which personnel was involved in dental procedures. We responded to the VMB by explaining the dental protocol, providing job descriptions of both licensed and unlicensed personnel, and after several supplemental responses, the VMB closed its investigation.
Our Client’s notice of complaint from the VMB indicated that a pet owner filed a complaint regarding an alleged insulin overdose, alleging that the standard of care was not met. Upon reviewing the case with our client, we discovered that the owner’s own daughter was also a veterinarian at a different veterinary clinic and sometimes treated the canine herself for her parents. Unfortunately, the owner’s daughter adjusted the insulin dosage and failed to document it or inform our client. Fortunately, the pet recovered from the insulin overdose, and upon receiving evidence of what really occurred, the VMB closed its file.
Not eating and limping
Our Clients, both the premises licensee and the treating veterinarians, received notice from the VMB of a complaint regarding treatment of a patient’s weight bearing lameness and lack of appetite. After examining the patient and suspecting an injury or some type of osteoarthritis, our client ordered bloodwork and prescribed Gabapentin for her pain. Our client was later notified that the owner’s took their dog to a Veterinary Emergency Clinic the following day when her appetite continued to decrease. The veterinarian at the Veterinary Emergency Clinic advised the owners that their canine had pelvic limb paralysis and a probable herniated disc and that even with surgical intervention she would have only a small chance of regaining full function. The owners elected to euthanize her at that time. In this difficult case with a sympathetic situation, we successfully educated the VMB regarding the facts and sent the requested medical records and supporting evidence. A few months later, the VMB completed its evaluation of the matter and closed its investigation.
Pet Light Therapy
Our Clients, both a chiropractor and managing veterinarian, received a preliminary violation letter from the Veterinary Medical Board (“VMB”) stating that they had already completed their investigation and found upon specific violations of the Veterinary Practice Act. The alleged violations stem from a complaint that our client was performing “chiropractic light therapy” on animals without the supervision of a veterinarian. The term “chiropractic light therapy” is not a term defined by statue or regulation, and is not a treatment that our client performs. We responded to the VMB, explaining our clients’ practice including “PetLight” Therapy always under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. Light Therapy is a form of alternative therapy whereby an infrared, or in some cases red, light is placed on the body. This therapy is performed on humans as well as animals and is thus far not regulated by the FDA. Our office replied to the preliminary letter, and submitted extensive evidence regarding PetLight Therapy. After much correspondence, the VMB replied it had completed its evaluation of the matter and determined that there was no evidence to indicate a violation of the Veterinary Practice Act occurred.
Guinea Pig Pneumonia
Our Client received notice from the Veterinary Medical Board (“VMB”) that a complaint had been filed regarding the services provided to a guinea pig that was brought in for difficulty breathing and a reduced appetite. During the examination, our Client noticed that the guinea pig was suffering from upper respiratory infection, dehydration and nasal congestion. Our Client received approval from the owner to do a nasal swab to diagnose the infection and administer fluids. In order to do so, the guinea pig was restrained lightly in a small towel. As soon as it was lightly restrained in the towel the guinea pig released her bladder and collapsed. Our Client and her staff were unable to revive the pet; thus, the owner filed a complaint with the Board. We analyzed the facts of the case and explained to the VMB that the treating veterinarian acted reasonably and within the standard of practice for veterinarians in California. The VMB has completed its evaluation of the matter and closed its investigation.
Responding to investigations
Simas & Associates has been responding to professional licensing investigations for its entire 15 year history. This streak of case closures reminds us of the importance of taking these matters seriously, the need to seek legal help outside of yourself, and the effectiveness of our strategy in educating the licensing boards. All of these boards are designed to protect the public and, as a result, they routinely accept complaints from consumers, competitors, insurance companies, members of the public, and everyone imaginable.
These case closures remind us that we would never recommend a licensed professional try to represent themselves in these matters and we would never advise a professional to even try to correspond with or communicate with licensing boards without legal counsel overseeing or directing such communications. Anyone in such a situation lacks perspective on how to best respond to the boards. In addition, they lack experience and expertise in knowing exactly what the boards are looking for to build a case against them. Our team understands that after a board receives a complaint, they are entirely unable to tell if the complaint has merit or not. And they investigate unmeritorious complaints as well as meritorious ones – ALL. OF. THE. TIME. Accordingly, the goal is to educate the boards and to show it how the matter is one that warrants them closing the file. Just as we have successfully achieved in these described cases.
We know what the licensing board is receptive to. We know what information the agency wants to put into the file to demonstrate that it has conducted a thorough investigaiton, even if they barely had to lift a finger. It is that knowledge and know-how that is invaluable. Especially when your entire livelihood is at stake.
If you are faced with any type of professional licensing board investigation, please call Simas & Associates, Ltd. sooner, not later. The earlier we are able to get involved and educate the boards about what really happened, the more likely we will achieve the success we experienced in June 2017. We look forward to hearing from you