A Health Professional’s Guide to Navigating the Disciplinary Process: What to Expect if You Are Facing a Professional Licensing Investigation or Administrative Complaint

Health professionals are committed to caring for patients with expertise, compassion, and integrity. However, in the heavily regulated healthcare field, those professionals can sometimes find themselves navigating not just the medical challenges of their patients but licensing issues of their own as well. Licensing issues can arise unexpectedly, and, when they do, they can cause tremendous stress and uncertainty.

As an attorney with years of experience handling professional licensing matters for health professionals, I have witnessed firsthand how professional licensing investigations and Administrative Complaints can disrupt health professionals’ careers and their ability to provide patient care. Let’s explore how to navigate the disciplinary process in Michigan so that you can know what to expect if you are ever faced with a threat to your license.

Understanding the Disciplinary Process

In Michigan, the disciplinary process for the more than 400,000 licensed health professionals is overseen by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) Bureau of Professional Licensing (BPL). This process is designed to uphold professional standards and protect public health while, at the same time, ensuring fair treatment for health professionals.

While each case is unique, there are some common themes in the types of actions or omissions that give rise to investigations and Administrative Complaints in the healthcare field. Being aware of these can help health professionals take steps to prevent potential issues that can lead to investigations and Administrative Complaints. Some of the most common involve allegations related to negligence, incompetence, professional misconduct, professional boundaries, lack of good moral character, controlled substances, substance use disorder, impairment, misdemeanor and/or felony criminal convictions, advertising, practice outside the scope of a license, documentation and recordkeeping, and Michigan Automated Prescription System (MAPS) reports.

The Initial Filing of a Complaint

Complaints can be filed by just about anyone: current or former patients, supervisors, subordinates, professional colleagues, and even the licensees themselves. These complaints are taken very seriously by the BPL and will be investigated. You may not even know that you are the subject of a complaint until you have been contacted by the BPL as part of its investigation.

The Investigation Phase

The BPL will conduct a thorough investigation once it has received a complaint and will assign one or more investigators (known as “Regulation Agents”) to the professional licensing investigation matter. It is frequently during the investigation phase that licensees first become aware that one or more allegations have been made against them. Unfortunately, many health professionals are unaware that they have the right to have the assistance of an attorney during the investigation phase. These unrepresented health professionals frequently make statements to the investigators without the guidance of an attorney, and I have seen instances where those statements have ultimately been used to provide the foundation for an Administrative Complaint to be filed against them.

At the conclusion of the investigation, an Investigation Report will be forwarded to the Disciplinary Subcommittee (DSC) of the board that governs that particular profession. If one or more violations of Michigan’s Public Health Code have been substantiated, an Administrative Complaint may be authorized. Thankfully, not all professional licensing investigations result in the filing of an Administrative Complaint, which is why having experienced legal representation behind you is so important during the investigation phase.

Responding to an Administrative Complaint

If the BPL issues an Administrative Complaint against you, you must respond in writing within 30 days from the date that you received the Administrative Complaint. Failure to respond in writing within 30 days will result in the Administrative Complaint being forwarded to the DSC for imposition of a sanction without any input from you.

You will be presented with 3 different options. You may (1) request a settlement, (2) request a compliance conference, or (3) request a formal administrative hearing on the merits of the Administrative Complaint.

It is important to prepare a timely and thoughtful response. This is a critical stage where legal representation is critical. A well-prepared Answer to Administrative Complaint can isolate the disputed issues and mitigate the severity of the situation.

The Compliance Conference

If you request a compliance conference, you will have the opportunity to present mitigating information and your side of the story in an informal setting, and an attorney may prepare you for the compliance conference and represent you at the compliance conference. Following the compliance conference, a proposed Consent Order and Stipulation may be prepared to resolve the Administrative Complaint, and it may be revised during the negotiation process that’s sometimes follows the compliance conference. The Administrative Complaint may also be dismissed by the BPL. However, if the Administrative Complaint is not resolved with a Consent Order and Stipulation or dismissed altogether, the matter will proceed to a formal administrative hearing on the merits of the Administrative Complaint.

The Formal Administrative Hearing on the Merits of the Administrative Complaint

If you proceed to a formal administrative hearing on the merits of the Administrative Complaint, it is essential to understand what this entails. The hearing is similar to a bench trial in court with opening statements, closing arguments, the formal testimony of witnesses under oath, and the admission of exhibits. You will have an opportunity to testify and to share your side of the story in a formal setting. The hearing will be held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), but the ALJ cannot make a decision at the hearing. Instead, the ALJ will issue a Proposal for Decision (PFD). Exceptions to the PFD may be filed by the parties, and the PFD is then forwarded to the DSC for its consideration. The DSC will then issue a Final Order.

A merits hearing may be the only way to obtain the result that you need to continue practicing your chosen profession. However, proceeding to a hearing is a decision that should not be made lightly, and careful preparation in collaboration with legal counsel, including the gathering  and analysis of evidence and the preparation of any witnesses, is key.

Summary Suspension

If it has been found that you pose an immediate threat to the public health, safety, or welfare, your Administrative Complaint may be accompanied by a separate document called an Order of Summary Suspension. If you receive an Order of Summary Suspension, you must stop practicing your health profession immediately and cannot practice again until the summary suspension has been dissolved.

There is more than one way to dissolve a summary suspension. If a Petition for Dissolution of Summary Suspension is filed, an emergency hearing will be scheduled before an administrative law judge (ALJ). If the ALJ determines that there is insufficient evidence that you pose an immediate threat to the public health, safety, or welfare that requires a continuation of the summary suspension, the ALJ shall dissolve the summary suspension. A summary suspension can also be dissolved by a Consent Order and Stipulation at the end of the Administrative Complaint resolution process or by a Final Order following a formal hearing on the merits of the Administrative Complaint.

Possible Outcomes and Sanctions

A disciplinary action may conclude with a complete dismissal of the Administrative Complaint against you. However, if one or more violations of the Public Health Code have been substantiated, sanctions must be imposed. License sanctions can vary widely depending on the severity of the Public Health Code violation and, pursuant to MCL 333.16226, may include reprimand, fine, probation, restitution, limitation, suspension, revocation, and even permanent revocation.

The Appeal Process

If you disagree with the Final Order, you may appeal it to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The appeal process is complex and requires a strategic approach. Consider the grounds for appeal carefully and consult with an experienced attorney to evaluate the feasibility and potential benefits of an appeal.

Preventative Measures and Best Practices

When it comes to professional licensing, an ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure. Adhering to ethical practices, engaging in continuous professional development, and staying informed about regulatory changes can help prevent complaints. A proactive approach to professional conduct is always your best defense.

Conclusion

Facing a professional licensing investigation or an Administrative Complaint can be a very stressful experience for any health professional, but understanding the process and having an experienced attorney by your side can make a significant difference.

This guide serves as a general summary and does not constitute legal guidance. Please contact us with any specific questions.


Attorney Robert J. AndretzFraser Trebilcock Shareholder Robert J. Andretz is an experienced professional licensing attorney with years of experience successfully defending doctors, nurses, and other licensed health professionals across the state of Michigan in professional licensing matters, including professional licensing investigations and Administrative Complaint matters. You can reach him at 517.377.0854 or randretz@fraserlawfirm.com.

Five Stories that Matter in Michigan This Week – July 15, 2022

  1. Supreme Court Ruling Shouldn’t Affect Michigan’s Healthy Climate Plan

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants should not affect Michigan’s course of following through with the MI Healthy Climate Plan, which was first released in April 2021. The MI Healthy Climate plan seeks interim reductions of 28% by 2025 and 52% by 2030.

Why it Matters: Businesses should continue to plan for the implementation of the MI Healthy Climate plan and other regulations as the state continues to shift towards the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050. If you have environmental issues with state and/or federal agencies, contact our environmental attorneys.

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  1. Several Groups Send Letter to LARA Seeking Adoption of International Energy Standards

Several groups have sent the department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs seeking them to adopt a set of international energy standards for residential and commercial buildings in preparation of electric vehicle charging and to help reduce climate impact.

Why it Matters: Including reducing climate impact, the groups have touted hundreds of dollars in energy cost savings for Michigan residents with the adoption of the new standards. “These provisions will lower costs for Michigan residents and businesses, increase household resilience from extreme weather events, and help reduce climate impacts from the building sector,” the groups wrote.

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  1. Tax Reform Goals Priority for New “Fund MI Future” Coalition

A collection of 20 organizations have formed a newly created coalition with the aim of better funding Michigan’s public services with changes to the state’s tax policy. Following the release of Michigan’s next annual budget, the group plans to revise the state’s tax system and close tax loopholes so that wealthy individuals and organizations will now “pay what they owe” to support clean water access, job funding, and school support.

Why it Matters: If the new coalition’s plans for altering the state’s tax policy succeeds, organizations and wealthy individuals are expected to have higher tax bills.

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  1. Mixed Signals in Michigan Marijuana Sales Data

One the one hand, the Michigan legal marijuana industry is booming. Sales in Michigan hit $1.03 billion in the first half of 2022, up by 26.9% from the same period last year, according to the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency (“MMRA”). A Detroit News article reported that Michigan has become the third largest marijuana market in the country. On the other hand, not all news is rosy in the industry. There are now more than 1,000 licensed marijuana retailers in Michigan, and while sales numbers are at all-time highs, the competition in the state is driving down prices. MMRA reported that the average price for flower at $1959 per pound in June, down 41.6% from the same period in 2021.

Why it Matters: With inflation surging across the economy, falling prices in the marijuana industry mean that profits may be hard to come by. This may lead to more consolidation within the industry as operators and investors seek to achieve economies of scale.

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  1. Bipartisan Bills Would Allow Alcohol Sales at Some College Sporting Events in Michigan

New bipartisan bills in the Michigan Legislature would allow alcohol sales at college basketball, football and hockey games. House Bill 6289 and Senate Bill 1125 would allow the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to issue licenses to be used for events within the public areas of university football, basketball and hockey stadiums. Sales would be permitted two hours before and after each game.

Why it Matters: Sponsors of the bills point to data showing that allowing alcoholic beverages in venues during sporting events lowers the probability of excessive alcohol consumption that might otherwise happen during tailgating before a game or if alcohol is snuck into a stadium.


Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Environmental Law | Michael Perry

Business & Tax| Ed Castellani

Taxation | Paul McCord

Cannabis | Klint Kesto

Energy, Utilities & Telecommunication | Michael Ashton

Michigan Adopts New Online Filing System For Michigan Business Entities

Business Online FilingThe State of Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) provides services for corporations, limited partnerships, limited liability companies, and limited liability partnerships and for foreign entities to obtain a certificate of authority to transact business. LARA has recently adopted a new system for filing documents for Michigan business entities. The new system, known as Corporations Online Filing System (COFS), was effective October 30, 2017 and replaces the Michigan Electronic Filing System (MICH-ELF). The MICH-ELF system is no longer active.

In addition to the new COFS system, LARA recently sent each registered business entity a Customer ID (CID) and PIN number. The CID and PIN must be included with every filing through the COFS system. If an entity does not have its CID and PIN, it will not be able to file a document with LARA. If an entity has misplaced their CID and PIN, the entity may electronically request their CID and PIN.

A number of documents cannot be filed through the COFS system and must be filed by mail or by hand delivery at LARA’s office in Okemos, Michigan. Currently, LARA is taking approximately two weeks to process a filing unless expedited service is requested and an additional filing fee is paid.


Fraser Trebilcock Business Tax Attorney Edward J. CastellaniAny questions on the new filing procedure may be addressed to Edward J. Castellani JD, CPA at 517.377.0845 or ecast@fraserlawfirm.com. Ed brings a distinct advantage to the Business and Tax practice at Fraser Trebilcock. In addition to having practiced law for more than 30 years, Ed is a certified public accountant. This dual background and experience provides his clients a unique insight into business transactions, such as business entity formations, mergers, acquisitions, tax audits and appeals, and general business and tax planning for both profit and non-profit corporations.

CLIENT ALERT: New Corporations Online Filing System Launches Monday, October 30, 2017 in Michigan

Business Online FilingOn Monday, October 30th, the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) will launch a new Corporations Online Filing System (COFS) for Michigan businesses. This system  will allow businesses to submit documents and annual filings, pay filing fees, and order certificate, and will replace the MICH-ELF system. The service also features an expanded search function.

Michigan Businesses Will Be Assigned New ID Numbers for COFS

Businesses will be assigned new entity identification numbers to use when submitting documents. These numbers have been  mailed to all resident agents of Michigan business entities. It is important that resident agents save this information. It includes log-in instructions, the new entity identification number, as well as a customer identification number and PIN, which will be used as a username and password to log into new system.

It is important to note that business taxpayer identification number(s) used by the Michigan Department of Treasury and federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will remain unchanged.

If you have any questions, LARA has provided a detailed guide online at the Corporations Division website. Anyone needing further assistance can reach out to the Corporations Division during extended help hours, from Monday, October 30th to Thursday, November 9th from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. EST.

Learn more about the new system from LARA: New Corporations Online Filing System (COFS) Cuts Red Tape for 800,000+ Businesses in Michigan.


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