Category Archives: Administrative Law


Today, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) announced that it is soliciting comments from health care providers regarding any issues or concerns with existing Managed Care Plan providers under the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care Program.   This is your opportunity as a health care provider directly impacted by the Medicaid Managed Care Plans to voice any problems, concerns, or suggestions.  This announcement is part of AHCA’s ongoing re-procurement  under the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program.  AHCA will consider your comments in the process of making awards to Managed Care Organizations and Provider Service Networks in each Region of the State.   This process was mandated under a legislative amendment that requires AHCA to solicit comments.


The State of Florida has offered Medicaid services since 1970. Medicaid is funded by both the state and federal government to provide health care coverage for eligible children, seniors, disabled adults, and pregnant women. The annual budget for the program is more than $38 billion and makes up the largest part of the total Florida budget. The 2011 Florida Legislature originally adopted the legislation (now Part IV of Chapter 409, Florida Statutes) to create and establish the Florida Medicaid program as a statewide, integrated managed care program for all covered Medicaid services, including long-term care services. This program is referred to as Statewide Medicaid Managed Care (SMMC) and includes three programs: Managed Medical Assistance (MMA), Long-term Care (LTC), and Dental. The 2022 Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 1950 (amending part IV of Chapter 409, Florida Statutes) to reallocate Medicaid regions, direct the Agency to conduct a single statewide procurement for the SMMC program, and ensure a minimum number of managed care plans per Medicaid region. More than 4.4 million Floridians are enrolled in Florida’s SMMC program.


Based on the 2022 legislative amendment, AHCA is not required to consider comments from health care providers that operate in an area covered by on  the existing Plans.  The Invitation to Negotiate provides:

“ a. Pursuant to Section 409.966(3)(a)8., Florida Statutes, the Agency will consider comments in writing by any enrolled or registered Medicaid provider relating to a respondent that has submitted a response to this solicitation in the same region in which the provider is located and rendering services. b. The Agency will publish a list of respondents and instructions for how providers may submit comments to this solicitation within two (2) business days of the public opening at: c. The Agency will utilize an online survey tool for the collection of the provider comments. The online survey tool will remain open and active for a period of ten (10) business days. d. Providers must submit comments to the Agency through the published survey tool by the date/time indicated in Section A., Overview, Sub[1]Section 6., Solicitation Timeline and as outlined on the Agency’s website.

Today’s Announcement provides  that comments must be submitted no later than November 9, 2023 by 5 PM.  Comments are submitted through an on-line survey tool.  For additional information, or assistance in submitting comments, please contact us.


AHCA Notice of Rule Changes

On August 15, 2023, the Agency for Health Care Administration (“AHCA”) published notice of a proposed rule amendment regarding Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.) Rule 59A-18.0081 which applies to regulation of licensed Nurse Registries in Florida. A copy of the AHCA Notice of Proposed Rule Amendment can be accessed here. Licensed Nurse Registries in Florida should review the proposed changes to determine how these changes to the Rule will affect their future operations, and if there are any concerns that should be addressed prior to the Rule becoming final. Nurse Registries affected by the Rule have certain rights, as described below, to participate in a public hearing or in a formal Rule Protest proceeding to seek changes or modifications to the proposed Rule amendments.

Overview of Rule Amendments

The current Rule 59A-18.0081, F.A.C. sets forth general requirements governing Nurse Registries including Rules that set forth requirements for certified nursing assistants (“CNAs”) and home health aides (“HHAs”) who provide health care services to patients in the home or place of residence and specifies the services that a CNA or HHA can perform. The main purpose of the proposed Rule amendments is to incorporate changes based upon changes recently made to Florida Statute 400.488, “Assistance with self-administration of medication and with other tasks.” This statute was updated in 2022 to add that CNAs and HHAs may assist with other tasks other than just self-administration of medication. This Rule amendment clarifies for CNAs and HHAs what can be performed, and it also clarifies some tasks that cannot be performed.

The proposed rule amendment reflects the additional tasks that CNAs and HHAs may now perform as taught and documented by a registered nurse (“RN”). Many of the proposed changes to the rule are reorganizing the language; however, it does specify both additional tasks that are now allowed, as well as specify some tasks that are not allowed. These proposed changes will assist in clarification for CNAs, HHAs, and the RNs that supervise them. The specific rule changes that include the additional tasks are as follows (underlined additions, strike through deletions):

(a) Assisting with the placement and removal change of a colostomy bag, excluding the removal of the flange or manipulation of the stoma’s site reinforcement of dressing;
(b) Assisting with the application and removal of anti- embolism stockings and hosiery prescribed for therapeutic treatment of the legs.
(b) through (d) renumbered (c) through (e) No Change.
(f) (e) Administer Doing simple urine tests for sugar, acetone or albumin;
(g) Assisting with the use of a glucometer to perform blood glucose testing;
(h) (f) Measuring and preparing special diets;
(i) (g) Measuring intake and output of fluids; and,
(j) (h) Measuring vital signs, including temperature, pulse, respiration or blood pressure;
(k) Assisting with oxygen nasal cannulas and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices, excluding the titration of the prescribed oxygen levels; and
(l) Assisting with the reinforcement of dressing.

The proposed rule amendment regarding the tasks that cannot be performed by a CNA or Home Health Aide are as follows:

(a) Administer any nursing or therapeutic service that requires licensure as a health care professional;
(b) Change sterile dressings.
(c) Irrigate body cavities such as giving an enema;
(d) Perform irrigation of any wounds (such as vascular ulcers, diabetic ulcers, pressure ulcers, surgical wounds) or apply agents used in the debridement of necrotic tissues in wounds of any type;
(e) Perform a gastric irrigation or enteral feeding;
(f) Catheterize a patient;
(g) Administer medications;
(h) Apply heat by any method;
(i) Care for a tracheotomy tube;
(j) Provide any service which has not been included in the plan of care; or,
(k) Providing assistance with a pill organizer, such as removing medication from a pill organizer and placing the medication in the patient’s hand or filling a pill organizer with the patient’s medication(s).

Other proposed changes to the rule worth mentioning are that when it comes to assistance with self-administration of medications, previously it was required that a review of the medications for which assistance is to be provided was to be conducted by a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse (“LPN”). The proposed rule will change this and require that an assessment of the patient and patient’s medications for which assistance is to be provided must be conducted by an RN to ensure that a patient receiving such assistance is medically stable and has regularly scheduled medications that are intended to be self-administered. This assessment may not be conducted by an LPN.

Right to Participate in Public Hearing or Formal Rule Challenge Proceedings

Prior to the adoption, amendment, or repeal of any rule other than an emergency rule, an agency such as AHCA is required to give notice of its intended action as required by Section 120.54(3)(a), Florida Statutes. The notice must be published in the Florida Administrative Register not less than 28 days prior to the intended action. Any person who will be substantially affected by a rule or a proposed rule may request a Public Hearing on the Rule changes and may seek an administrative determination of the invalidity of the rule on the grounds that the rule is an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority pursuant to F.S. 120.56. There are strict time restraints for challenging a proposed rule that are delineated in F.S. 120.56(2) as follows:

A petition alleging the invalidity of a proposed rule shall be filed within 21 days after the date of publication of the notice required by s. 120.54(3)(a); within 10 days after the final public hearing is held on the proposed rule as provided by s. 120.54(3)(e)2.; within 20 days after the statement of estimated regulatory costs or revised statement of estimated regulatory costs, if applicable, has been prepared and made available as provided in s. 120.541(1)(d); or within 20 days after the date of publication of the notice required by s. 120.54(3)(d).

According to published Notice, a Rule Workshop on the proposed Nurse Registry rule changes is scheduled for September 14, 2023, 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Agency for Health Care Administration, 2727 Mahan Drive, Building 3, Conference Room C, Tallahassee, FL 32308. Individuals may also participate by dialing the Open Voice conference line, 1(888)585-9008, then enter the conference room number followed by the pound sign, 998-518-088#. The agenda and related materials can be found on the web at: n/Rulemaking.shtml.
Any affected party may participate in the Workshop to offer comments, ask questions, or suggest modifications. Any Petition to Challenge Proposed Rule Amendments would need to be filed with the Division of Administrative Hearings within 10 days after the final public hearing is held.

Legal Standards in a Rule Challenge

In a formal hearing the Party filing a Rule Challenge has the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that they would be substantially affected by the proposed rule. The Agency then has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the proposed rule is not an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority as to the objections raised. According to Section 120.52(8), Florida Statutes, a rule is deemed to be an “invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority” if any of the following apply:

(a) The agency has materially failed to follow the applicable rulemaking procedures or requirements set forth in this chapter;
(b) The agency has exceeded its grant of rulemaking authority, citation to which is required by s. 120.54(3)(a)1.;
(c) The rule enlarges, modifies, or contravenes the specific provisions of law implemented, citation to which is required by s. 120.54(3)(a)1.;
(d) The rule is vague, fails to establish adequate standards for agency decisions, or vests unbridled discretion in the agency;
(e) The rule is arbitrary or capricious. A rule is arbitrary if it is not supported by logic or the necessary facts; a rule is capricious if it is adopted without thought or reason or is irrational; or
(f) The rule imposes regulatory costs on the regulated person, county, or city which could be reduced by the adoption of less costly alternatives that substantially accomplish the statutory objectives.

A grant of rulemaking authority is necessary but not sufficient to allow an agency to adopt a rule; a specific law to be implemented is also required. An agency may adopt only rules that implement or interpret the specific powers and duties granted by the enabling statute.

An example of a recent finding where a rule was found to be an invalid exercise of legislative power was in Fla. Dep’t of Bus. & Pro. Regul., Div. of Alcoholic Beverages & Tobacco v. Walmart Inc., No. 1D19-4599, 2021 WL 1996361 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. May 19, 2021), reh’g denied (Aug. 19, 2021), wherein the Court held:

Plain meaning of “restaurant” as term was used in statute governing eligibility for consumption-on-premises liquor licenses, whether term’s meaning was “public eating place” or “public food service establishment” or “business establishment where meals or refreshments may be purchased,” supported that restaurants customarily sold food prepared offsite and that restaurants were not limited to selling food prepared onsite, and, thus, rule interpreting statute and defining items “customarily sold in a restaurant” to exclude food prepared offsite was invalid for enlarging, modifying, or contravening statute.

Affected Parties Should Review the Proposed Rule Changes

Nurse Registries affected by the proposed rule amendment should review the proposed amendments carefully. If you feel there is a need for clarification, or that a rule is not warranted or is in conflict with statute, you should exercise your legal rights to participate in the Workshop and any future Public Hearing to seek modification of the proposed rule amendments, or to challenge proposed Rule amendments that may be invalid.

If you have questions or concerns about this new rule, you can contact an experienced healthcare attorney at Smith & Associates for a free consultation.

Defending Your Professional License from an Administrative Complaint

You worked hard to obtain your professional license. You also work hard to maintain your professional license. Whether it be a medical license, a nursing license, a real estate license or any of the other professional licenses issued by the Florida Department of Health or the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, these professional licenses allow you to practice your trade and earn a living.

However, if the agency or board in charge of your license has probable cause to believe your have violated a statute or rule governing your license, it can issue an administrative complaint and seek to take disciplinary action against you, including the revocation of your license.

It is important to have strong, experienced legal counsel representing you through the disciplinary process.

How Does the Process Work

The process starts when an agency or board receives a complaint about a licensed individual. These complaints can come from anyone, including your employer, law enforcement, or the general public. Once a complaint is received, the appropriate board will notify the licensed individual and begin its investigation. The complaint and any investigative materials will remain confidential during the investigation process.

The investigation is your first opportunity to address any allegations of wrongdoing. If you receive an investigation letter or a phone call from an investigator, you will be given the opportunity to explain, deny, or otherwise justify the allegations contained in the complaint. However, please note that, while this is not a criminal matter, anything you say can be used against you as the process proceeds.

After the investigation is concluded, the investigation team will present their findings to the appropriate probable cause panel who will make a determination as to whether probable cause exists to issue an administrative complaint. As this process is still confidential, you will not be informed about the result until after the panel has made its decision. If the panel finds that no probable cause exists, the matter will be closed, and the complaint and investigative materials will be kept confidential.

If the panel determines that probable cause does exist, an administrative complaint will be issued and served upon you, to your address of record, by certified mail. Once you receive an administrative complaint, time is of the essence. If you fail to timely respond within 21 days, your right to dispute the claims in the complaint may be waived.

In response to the complaint, you will have three options:

  1. Relinquish your license. Please note that, if you chose this option, it will be considered a disciplinary action and will affect your ability to obtain or renew any other professional licenses you may have in Florida and will likely have a negative affect on any professional licenses you may maintain in other states.
  2. Request an Informal Hearing. If you choose this option, you are admitting the material facts of the complaint and will be assigned an informal hearing officer who will hear your case and decide what, if any, punishment is proper. You should be very careful in choosing this option as you cannot deny the allegations in the complaint at the informal hearing.
  3. Request a Formal Administrative Hearing. This option is usually the best option to select, however you must do more than simply select the correct checkbox (e.g., you must identify the facts you believe are in dispute). If you select this option, your case will be forwarded to the Division of Administrative Hearings where an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will be assigned to your case. You will be given the opportunity to conduct discovery (e.g., request relevant documents and take depositions of potential witnesses) and you will be given an opportunity to defend against the allegations and present your case. Importantly, the board or department will bear the burden of proving the case by clear and convincing evidence – that means that the burden is not on you to prove you didn’t do what is alleged, but that the board must prove everything that it has alleged.

Regardless of which option you pick, a final order will eventually be issued. While the best outcome is that no action is taken against your license, the potential disciplinary actions can include the issuance of a letter of reprimand, imposition of fines and costs, the placing of restrictions upon the license, suspension of the license, or permanent revocation of the license.

Why Should I Retain an Experienced Professional Licensing Attorney

An experienced professional licensing attorney can help you through the entire disciplinary process. For example, if you receive an investigation notice, an experienced attorney can draft a legal response to the investigation. This has two benefits 1) it prevents you from accidentally revealing information to the investigator that may be harmful to your case, and 2) it helps the probable cause panel understand the factual and legal issues within the complaint. Prevailing at the probable cause panel keeps the complaint confidential and prevents the need to go through the formal administrative hearing process.

Further, if an administrative complaint is issued, the board or department will be represented by its own attorneys. Having an experienced attorney fighting for you levels the playing field and helps ensure that you are able to put on your best defense. Additionally, an experienced professional licensing attorney can negotiate a reasonable settlement of the complaint early in the process to avoid the costs and expenses of a full administrative hearing.

If you have been notified that you are being investigated related to your professional license or if you have received an administrative complaint related to your professional license, you can contact an experienced professional licensing attorney at Smith & Associates for a free consultation.

Operation Nightingale – DOH is Issuing Administrative Complaints

As discussed in a prior article, following an investigation into six Florida schools accused of engaging in a scheme to sell fraudulent nursing degrees, diplomas, and transcripts, the State of Florida, Department of Health has begun investigating nurses that it believes obtained these fraudulent degree.

Now, DOH is moving forward with the issuance of administrative complaints. If you have received an administrative complaint, know that you must strictly comply with the time periods included in the Election of Rights. If you want to contest DOH’s complaint, you must timely elect to have a formal administrative hearing and file a petition for the same.

What is most concerning is that the students of these colleges, which were accredited by DOH, had no idea that there was any fraudulent activity going on. They attended classes, took exams, and performed their clinical hours as required by the accredited schools. DOH reviewed all of this prior to issuing the nursing licenses and still issued the license.

DOH is attempting to come back and re-review the licenses due to errors committed, not by the nurses, but by DOH and the schools at issue. This is not proper.

In fact, DOH attempted to do something similar to this in the past and it was rejected by administrative law judges. In those cases, an accredited massage therapy school incorrectly informed certain students that they could transfer credits from another school and other incorrect statements about what was necessary to get their degree. These students were unaware that these statements were in error and followed the school’s requirements and had their degrees and transcripts issued, following which they applied for and were granted massage therapy licenses.

When DOH recognized its error, it brought claims under the same statutes that it is bringing claims against students affected by Operation Nightingale. The administrative law judges presiding over these cases rejected these claims by DOH. In particular, Administrative Law Judge Van Laningham stated:

The Department takes the position that Peng’s license can be revoked based on the Department’s unilateral mistake, even if Peng did not personally commit a culpable act. Thus, the Department contends that because its staff missed several so-called “red flags” that “should have caused them to ask additional questions regarding [Peng’s] application,” Peng herself committed a disciplinable offense. This argument is rejected.

To begin, the Department’s “unilateral error” theory is inconsistent with the general procedure for licensing as set forth in section 120.60, which provides in pertinent part as follows:

(1) Upon receipt of an application for a license, an agency shall examine the application and, within 30 days after such receipt, notify the applicant of any apparent errors or omissions and request any additional information the agency is permitted by law to require. An agency shall not deny a license for failure to correct an error or omission or to supply additional information unless the agency timely notified the applicant within this 30-day period.

Given that the law unambiguously prohibits an agency from “deny[ing] a license for failure to correct an error or omission or to supply additional information unless the agency timely notified the applicant” of the particular deficiency within 30 days after receiving the application, to allow the agency later to revoke a license pursuant to section 456.072(1)(h) based solely on a purported deficiency or “red flag” in the licensee’s application of which the agency failed to give timely notice under section 120.60 not only would erode the protection that the latter statute affords specific licensees, but also would undermine the integrity of licenses in general.

Further, section 456.072(1) clearly does require a culpable ““act” on the part of the licensee as a condition for imposing discipline. Id. (“The following acts shall constitute grounds for” discipline) (emphasis added). The disciplinable acts specified in section 456.072(1)(h) are the use of a bribe, fraudulent misrepresentation, or “error of the department” to obtain a license.

Because a unilateral agency error does not involve any wrongful act on the licensee’s part, such an event cannot constitute a basis for discipline. For a disciplinable act to occur, the applicant must somehow use or take advantage of an agency error to obtain her license.

The full order can be accessed here.

DOH is seeking to hold innocent students responsible for its own mistakes and failures. Hopefully, the judges will continue to rule as they did in the above cited case and reject DOH’s attempt to relitigate the original issuance of the licenses.
If you have been issued an investigation letter or administrative complaint by the DOH regarding Operation Nightingale, you should contact an experienced attorney at Smith & Associates to discuss your rights and options.

Operation Nightingale – Know Your Rights

The U.S. Department of Justice is pursuing criminal charges against six Florida schools accused of engaging in a scheme to sell fraudulent nursing degrees, diplomas, and transcripts following an investigation by the FBI. These six schools and the relevant time frames for when they are accused of selling the fraudulent degrees are as follows:

  • Siena College/Siena College of Health, Lauderhill (10/2003 to 9/2022)
  • Sacred Heart International Institute, Fort Lauderdale (8/2017 to 9/2021)
  • Quisqueya School of Nursing LLC (“Sunshine Academy”), Boynton Beach (10/2016 to 12/2020)
  • Med-Life Institute WPB,LLC, West Palm Beach (10/2016 to 12/2020)
  • Quisqueya Health Care Academy, LLC, Lake Worth (10/2016 to 12/2020)
  • Palm Beach School of Nursing, LLC, West Palm Beach (10/2016 to 12/2020)

It is alleged that this scheme by these schools resulted in the issuance of 7,600 fraudulent nursing degrees.

In response, the State of Florida, Department of Health has begun issuing investigation letters to nurses that it believes obtained these fraudulent degrees. These letters do not provide any of the alleged information that DOH is relying on to claim that the degree is fraudulent. Further, these letters provide the recipient with an opportunity to respond to the investigation, and also provides the recipient with a form to voluntarily relinquish their nursing license.

If you are a nurse and you received one of these letters, you should contact an attorney to discuss your rights. For example, New York, which is also dealing with this issue, admits that not all of the nursing degrees issued by these schools during this time frame were fraudulent and is giving nurses the opportunity to prove their degrees were “real.” In Florida, however, the burden is on DOH to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the nurse violated a specific statute or rule and that, due to that violation, the nursing license should be revoked. Some of the specific statutes cited by the DOH investigation letter are:

  • Attempting to obtain, obtaining, or renewing a license to practice a profession by bribery, by fraudulent misrepresentation, or through an error of the department or the board. Fla. Stat. s. 456.072(1)(h);
  • Making deceptive, untrue, or fraudulent representations in or related to the practice of a profession or employing a trick or scheme in or related to the practice of a profession. Fla. Stat. s. 456.072(1)(m);
  • Failing to comply with the requirements for profiling and credentialing, including, but not limited to, failing to provide initial information, failing to timely provide updated information, or making misleading, untrue, deceptive, or fraudulent representations on a profile, credentialing, or initial or renewal licensure application. Fla. Stat. s. 456.072(1)(w); and
  • Procuring, attempting to procure, or renewing a license to practice nursing or the authority to practice practical or professional nursing pursuant to s. 464.0095 by bribery, by knowing misrepresentations, or through an error of the department or the board. Fla. Stat. s. 464.018(1)(a).

Before DOH can revoke any nursing license pursuant to these statutes, it has the burden to show that each element of the above cited statutes has been met. While it is currently unknown to the public what specific information DOH has from the FBI about any individual nurse or degree, absent clear and convincing evidence that a specific nurse’s degree was obtained fraudulently, it will be difficult to meet this burden.

Importantly, it appears that there are students that attended these accredited nursing schools that actually completed the required course work and clinical hours. While it is DOH’s burden to prove otherwise, with the appropriate documentation, affected nurses may be able to reach a quick resolution with DOH and avoid any adverse actions against their licenses.

If you have received an investigation letter from DOH regarding these nursing schools and allegations of fraudulent degrees, you should contact an attorney to help you understand your rights. At Smith & Associates we have decades of experience dealing with health care licensing issues and are here to assist you should you become the subject of a DOH investigation. Please contact us for a free initial consultation.

A Call for Rational Reform of IPN and PRN Laws and Regulations

As the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded everyone, healthcare workers perform critical jobs under significant amounts of stress every day. While everyone else was sheltering in place, healthcare workers went to the frontlines and put their lives at risk to save others.

Unfortunately, many of these healthcare workers have been taken advantage of by the very programs that were set up to protect and help them. When a healthcare worker has issues with drugs or alcohol, they can seek treatment through an impaired practitioner program. These programs serve dual, laudable goals: 1) to protect the public from impaired healthcare workers, and 2) to provide treatment to these practitioners to ensure that they can practice their craft safety.

Despite these laudable goals, and as discussed in more detail here, these programs have become a trap for health care professionals. While these programs were established by Florida law, they are administered by private corporations with little guidance or oversight. This has led to serious concerns that these programs are over-recommending courses of treatment to make more money, knowing that the professionals subject to their programs must comply or lose their professional license and their career. This ABC investigative report discusses the claims of over-recommendations here.

The time for reform is now. As discussed in detail in this article, if you are healthcare professional who is being unfairly treated by an impaired practitioner program (e.g., IPN or PRN), it is time to band to together to challenge the legality of the current impaired practitioner programs and to lobby for legislative change to address the unaccountable nature of these programs.

Overview of the Impaired Practitioner Programs

The impaired practitioner programs were created by Florida Statute § 456.076 with the stated purpose of protecting “the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” § 456.076(3), Fla. Stat. While no reasonable person would disagree with that goal, the statute itself does very little in the way of ensuring that this goal is being met.

The majority of the statute is devoted to setting forth the structure and organization of these programs. Specifically, the statute creates “consultants” which means the “individual or entity who operates an approved impaired practitioner program pursuant to a contract with the [Department of Health].” § 456.076(1), Fla. Stat.

The Department of Health has entered into two consultant contracts 1) The Impaired Practitioners Network (“IPN”), which exclusively handles issues with nursing practitioners and 2) The Professional Resources Network (“PRN”) which handles all other professionals subject to the impaired practitioner programs statute. See 64B31-10.001, F.A.C.

The statute also creates evaluators. An evaluator is a “state-licensed or nationally certified individual who has been approved by a consultant or the department, who has completed an evaluator training program established by the consultant, and who is therefore authorized to evaluate practitioners as part of an impaired practitioner program.” § 456.076(1), Fla. Stat. Importantly, the statute provides that the consultants themselves (IPN and PRN) cannot evaluate practitioners – only independent evaluators can do that.

The statute further provides for the process for how a practitioner is admitted to an impaired practitioner program. Specifically, the statute provides that PRN or IPN “shall enter into a participant contract with an impaired practitioner and shall establish the terms of monitoring and shall include the terms in a participant contract. In establishing the terms of monitoring, the consultant may consider the recommendations of one or more approved evaluators, treatment programs, or treatment providers. A consultant may modify the terms of monitoring if the consultant concludes, through the course of monitoring, that extended, additional, or amended terms of monitoring are required for the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” Fla. Stat. § 456.076(5).

There is no additional guidance, either through statute or rule, as to what can be contained in a monitoring contract, what monitoring needs to include, what standards the consultants or the evaluators need to apply when monitoring a practitioner, or any maximum length of time for the monitoring contract. IPN and PRN are left to their own discretion to set the terms of the contract. Moreover, there are no standards set for the evaluators. Evaluators are free to recommend whatever course of treatment they see fit and have no guidance as to when certain treatments should be recommended. For example, there is no statutory guidance to set forth the conditions as to when inpatient treatment is needed versus when a less invasive form of treatment could be given.

What this means from a practical perspective is that when a practitioner is referred to IPN or PRN, either by their employer or by the Department of Health, that person is stuck with whatever contract IPN or PRN sees fit based upon the recommendations of an evaluator who is free to make any recommendation he or she sees fit. There is little-to-no statutory or regulatory oversight as to how these consultants or evaluators deal with the practitioners that have been referred to them.

Once a practitioner has signed a contract with IPN or PRN, these consultants now have significant control over the practitioner and his or her license. Specifically, Florida Statutes provide that the following is grounds for discipline, including revocation or suspension of the practitioner’s license:

Being terminated from an impaired practitioner program that is overseen by a consultant as described in s. 456.076, for failure to comply, without good cause, with the terms of the monitoring or participant contract entered into by the licensee, or for not successfully completing any drug treatment or alcohol treatment program.

§ 456.072(1)(hh), Fla. Stat. (emphasis added).

It is notable that “good cause” is not defined in the statute or any applicable rule. That is discussed in more detail below.

Thus, once a practitioner is in an impaired practitioner program, he must comply with all the terms imposed by that program, otherwise, he will be terminated and subject to licensure discipline.

The Good Cause Exception

One might believe that the “good cause” exception to being terminated would provide a check on IPN and PRN – keeping them from making recommendations that are, for example, not medically necessary or that are too cost prohibitive or onerous for the practitioner to complete. In reality though, the Department of Health has limited the definition of “good cause” so narrowly that it has been rendered meaningless.

While the Department of Health has not undergone any rulemaking to officially define “good cause” when a practitioner is facing discipline for being terminated from IPN or PRN, it has stated that “good cause” is limited to “serious and unavoidable events in the life of a practitioner; such as the return to active military duty, the acute appearance of a disabling medical condition, or death of the practitioner.” DOH v. Adebiyi, DOAH Case No. 18-4813PL, DOH’s Proposed Recommended Order (DOAH 2018). The issues with this definition should be readily apparent and none of those examples would include an example that would allow the practitioner to continue practicing.

Administrative law judges (“ALJs”) have agreed with DOH’s definition. For example, DOH v. Adebiyi, DOAH Case Number 18-4813PL, Recommended Order (DOAH 2018) involved a practitioner who suffered from mental health issues but had no diagnosed issues with drugs or alcohol. As a condition of her licensure, she was required to enroll in IPN. Despite not having any issues with drugs or alcohol, she was required to refrain from mood altering substances and submit to toxicology screening. Due to the costs of the toxicology Respondent missed numerous tests. The ALJ found the following:

  • “[T]he cost of the monitoring program created a financial hardship on [respondent]”;
  • “It has never been shown that [respondent] uses drugs”; and
  • “There was no showing in the record that Ms. Adebiyi has ever caused actual damage, physical or otherwise, to a patient under her care, or that her violations of IPN procedures caused such damage.”

Even with all of this, the ALJ found that good cause did not exist for respondent to terminate her IPN contract and recommended that her license be suspended until she complied with IPN requirements.

Thus, despite no allegations of alcohol or drug use and no allegation that the practitioner was unable to practice safely, the fact that she could not afford drug testing did not constitute good cause for her to terminate her IPN contract.
This unabated definition of “good cause” creates a real issue for practitioners who are facing unnecessary, costly recommendations from IPN or PRN. They must either comply or face having their license suspended or revoked until they comply.

Potential Legal Challenges and Opportunities for Change

One option is to challenge DOH’s definition of “good cause” as an improper, unadopted rule. In fact, Smith & Associates has recently filed an unadopted rule challenge to this definition, arguing that DOH’s definition of “good cause” serves as a rule, as defined by Florida Statutes, but that has never been formally adopted as a rule. Moreover, this challenge argues that this definition constitutes an invalid exercise of delegated legal authority – essentially that DOH is exceeding the authority given to it by the Legislature by adopting this limited, unsupported definition of “good cause.” The case has been assigned case number 21-0866 and its progress can be monitored here:

Additionally, there is an argument that impaired practitioner programs themselves violate the Florida Constitution. Article II, Section 3 of the Florida Constitution provides:

The powers of the state government shall be divided into legislative, executive and judicial branches. No person belonging to one branch shall exercise any powers appertaining to either of the other branches unless expressly provided herein.

Interpreting this, the Court has held that, while power can be delegated to other branches, the Legislature must define clear guidelines and limitations in the statute. Specifically, the Court has held, that “statutes granting power to the executive branch must clearly announce adequate standards to guide … in the execution of the powers delegated. The statute must so clearly define the power delegated that the [executive] is precluded from acting through whim, showing favoritism, or exercising unbridled discretion.” Florida Dept. of State, Div. of Elections v. Martin, 916 So. 2d 763, 770 (Fla. 2005).

Here, the Legislature establishes the Impaired Practitioner Programs in Florida Statute § 456.076. That statute provides no limits or guidance as to what can be contained in the participant contract, the limits on the treatments these programs can require, or any way for a participant to appeal or seek a second opinion. Further, as described above, Florida Statute § 456.072(1)(hh) allows DOH to revoke a participant’s license if they are terminated from a program, but provides no direction or guidance as to what grounds constitute good cause for a program to terminate a participant. In short, the Legislature has improperly delegated its authority to a third-party.

In addition to legal action, there is also the opportunity to lobby for a change in the statute and in the rules related to these programs and their administration. While no one wants to allow impaired health care professionals to be able to practice on patients, guidance needs to be given to these programs to protect the healthcare professionals that protect us. Putting protections in place to prevent these programs from taking advantage of healthcare workers should be a bipartisan goal.

The Need to Organize and Band Together

Legal challenges, lawsuits, lobbying, etc. are all expensive propositions. If each professional stuck in the IPN/PRN trap attempts to fight this alone, they are unlikely to have the resources or the sway to mount an effective challenge against these large, government backed institutions.

However, if they were to band together to form an association to fight for their interests, the collective costs to each practitioner would be minimal, but the collective effect would be significant. These programs affect thousands of practitioners every year. If even a small percentage of them banded together to form an association, it could launch significant legal challenges to these programs as well as lobby for common-sense legislative and regulatory reform.
If you are a practitioner affected by IPN or PRN and need help determining your options or if you are interested in forming an association to challenge these programs, please contact an attorney at Smith & Associates to discuss your rights.


During this challenging and uncertain time in the fight against COVID-19, the Agency for Health Care Administration (“AHCA”) has been working closely with the Florida Department of Health (“DOH”) and health care providers on COVID-19 prevention and response efforts to ensure that facilities across Florida have the knowledge and training to take every precaution to ensure the health and safety of patients, residents and health care staff. AHCA shares key guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) and DOH on the importance of restricting visitors, infection control protocols, and hygiene best practices. All licensees need to be vigilant in the protection against the spread of COVID-19 at their facilities. In facilities such as Assisted Living Facilities (“ALFs”) and Skilled Nursing Facilities (“SNFs”), it is extremely important to follow prevention guidelines because once COVID-19 appears in a facility it is a quick battle to isolate it and prevent others from being infected. Unfortunately, sometimes the battle is not quickly won, and the good guy suffers despite following detailed recommendations released by the CDC and the DOH.

Although AHCA and the DOH provide information on training, prevention, and response efforts, it must be noted that they are the policing agencies that are responsible for making sure that the Florida facilities protect their residents. Alerts released through AHCA require that facilities must report the positive COVID-19 cases in their facilities on a daily basis through the Emergency Status System (“ESS”). The ESS is the approved database for all licensees providing residential or inpatient services to report their emergency status. The number of COVID-19 cases in a facility is considered emergency status and must be reported daily.

AHCA and other state survey agencies are under extreme pressure to survey facilities to ensure compliance with COVID-19 directives. In fact, on January 4, 2021, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (“CMS”) issued a revised memorandum detailing new triggers for focused infection control surveys. The original CMS memorandum from June 1, 2020 identified two triggers for an infection control survey: nursing homes that report three or more new COVID-19 cases in the past week or one new resident case in a nursing home that was previously COVID-free as reported to National Healthcare Safety Network (“NHSN”). These surveys must be initiated by the state survey agency within three to five days of identification.

The January 4, 2021 update has outlined five more triggers for a focused infection control survey which went into effect immediately. Now nursing homes must meet one of the original case criterion plus at least one of the following new criteria: multiple weeks with new COVID-19 cases, low staffing, selection as a Special Focus Facility (a facility identified by CMS to have a documented pattern of providing poor care), concerns related to conducting outbreak testing per CMS requirements, or allegations or complaints that pose a risk of harm or immediate jeopardy to the health or safety or that are related to certain areas such as abuse or quality of care (e.g., pressure ulcers, weight loss, depression, decline in functioning). A survey may not be necessary for nursing homes meeting the above criteria if the nursing home received an onsite focused infection control survey in the three weeks prior to meeting the criteria, either as a stand-alone survey or as part of a recertification survey. However, in the event that a nursing home continues to meet the above criteria in the fourth week following the prior focused infection control survey, a new survey should be initiated. It must be noted that the original June 1, 2020 memorandum directed that state survey agencies must conduct a focused infection control survey of a minimum of 20% of the nursing homes in the state during the fiscal year 2021. Additionally, to meet this minimum of 20% of state nursing homes surveyed, only stand-alone focused infection control surveys may be counted.

In February 2021, AHCA issued its most recent emergency rules regarding mandatory entry for testing: 59AER21-3 Mandatory Entry for Testing and Infection Control for Nursing Homes and 59AER21-2 Mandatory Entry for Testing and Infection Control for Assisted Living Facilities. These rules provide updated DOH infection control directives and infection control duties concerning staff and resident testing, including making off-shift staff available at the facility for testing.

AHCA’s Field Operations Offices are responsible for conducting facility surveys. When deficiencies are found, a report called a Statement of Deficiencies (“SOD”), is generated to the facility for corrective action. The SOD issued to the facility will specify which rules or statutes the facility is deficient in following. In a situation where a facility is the subject of a focused COVID survey, the SOD may contain a deficiency for Resident Care – Rights & Facility Procedures pursuant to F.A.C. 59A-36.007(6) and F.S. 429.27 and F.S. 429.28 for failure to adhere to recognized standards from the CDC. Such failure may be in the form of failing to ensure social distancing and/or, failure to ensure residents and staff wore personal protective equipment (“PPE”) to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, it may include facility’s failure to ensure that the staff were knowledgeable about the prevention of the spread of COVID-19 and failure to screen staff and residents appropriately.

Another potential violation of the above rule and statutes that the SOD may contain is for failure to properly abide by the Division of Emergency Management (“DEM”) Order No. 20-011 (signed October 20, 2020) regarding the prohibition of entry of individuals to the facility except in certain circumstances as follows:

1. Every facility must continue to prohibit the entry of any individual to the facility, except in the following circumstances:

K. General visitors, i.e. individuals other than compassionate care visitors, under the criteria detailed below:

iii. Before allowing general visitors, the facility shall:
1. Set a policy to prohibit visitation if the resident receiving general visitors is quarantined, positive for COVID-19 and not recovered (as defined by most recent CDC guidance), or symptomatic for COVID-19;
2. Screen general visitors to prevent possible introduction of COVID-19;
3. Establish limits on the total number of visitors allowed in the facility, or with a resident at one time based on the ability of staff to safely screen and monitor visitation;
4. Establish limits on the length of visits, days, hours, and number of visits allowed per week;
5. Schedule visitors by appointment only;
6. Maintain a visitor log for signing in and out;
7. Immediately cease general visitation if a resident—other than in a dedicated wing or unit that accepts COVID-19 cases from the community—tests positive for COVID-19, or is exhibiting symptoms indicating that he or she is presumptively positive for COVID-19, or a staff person who was in the facility in the prior ten (10) days tests positive for COVID-19;
8. Monitor visitor adherence to appropriate use of masks, PPE, and social distancing;
9. Notify and inform residents and their representatives of any changes in the facility’s visitation policy;
10. Clean and disinfect visiting areas between visitors and maintain handwashing or sanitation stations; and
11. Designate staff to support infection-prevention and control education of visitors on use of PPE, use of masks, hand sanitation, and social distancing.

2. Individuals seeking entry to the facility, under the above section 1, will not be allowed to enter if they meet any of the screening criteria listed below:
A. Any person infected with COVID-19 who does not meet the most recent criteria from the CDC to end isolation.
B. Any person showing, presenting signs or symptoms of, or disclosing the presence of a respiratory infection, including cough, fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, chills, headache, muscle pain, repeated shaking with chills, new loss of taste or smell, or any other COVID-19 symptoms identified by the CDC.
C. Any person who has been in close contact with any person(s) known to be infected with COVID-19, who does not meet the most recent criteria from the CDC to end quarantine.

Clearly, this Order is very detailed on when and how a facility can admit visitors into the facility and it can easily be found that a facility failed to follow it precisely.

Another possible deficiency that a facility may be cited for is failure to follow the Comprehensive Emergency Plan that is required by F.S. 408.821. This statute requires that any licensee providing residential or inpatient services must utilize an online database approved by AHCA to report information to AHCA regarding the provider’s emergency status, planning, or operations. As stated above, all facilities are required to report their COVID-19 positive cases through the ESS on a daily basis. If a facility fails to report a positive case on any day, it can be cited for failure to follow the Comprehensive Emergency Plan violating the statute.

AHCA imposes administrative fines for violations according to a classification system in statute, based on the nature of the violation and the gravity of its probable effect on facility residents. ALFs’ (governed by Chapter 429, Part I, Florida Statutes, in addition to Chapter 408, Florida Statutes) deficiencies are classified as a Class I, Class II, Class III, or Class IV violation. The core licensing statutes for the facility type determine the Class and the fine that AHCA is authorized to charge the provider. SNFs are governed by Chapter 400, Part II, Florida Statutes, as well as Chapter 408, Part II, Florida Statutes. The “classification” system and applicable penalties for SNFs are found in section 400.23(8), Florida Statutes, and while similar to those of ALFs have striking differences. Specifically, the SNF statute provides for different levels of fines depending on whether the deficiency was isolated, patterned, or widespread. Additionally, for Class I, II, and III deficiencies, section 400.23(8), Florida Statutes, provides that “The fine amount shall be doubled for each deficiency if the facility was previously cited for one or more class I or class II deficiencies during the last licensure inspection or any inspection or complaint investigation since the last licensure inspection.” (emphasis added).

As part of a survey that results in deficiencies due to COVID-19, AHCA may request a facility to enter a Voluntary Limitation on Admissions in order to help control the spread of COVID-19 in the facility. Many facilities will agree to the voluntary limitation in the best interests of their residents. Unfortunately, the facility cannot begin readmitting former residents or admitting new residents until AHCA issues a letter lifting the voluntary limitation. When the facility finally gets the green light on admissions it is possible that they will have lost numerous readmissions and initial admissions and therefore face a steep financial challenge.

Additionally, even though a facility agrees to a voluntary limitation and then quickly contains the COVID-19 outbreak, they are still at risk for being the subject of an Administrative Complaint. The Administrative Complaint will seek administrative fines, a survey fee, and will sometimes seek to take action against the facility license (e.g., license suspension or revocation). Once served with an Administrative Complaint, the facility has the option to file a Petition for Formal Administrative Hearing to challenge the validity of AHCA’s action or proposed action on the license. Hearings on license proceedings are held before an independent administrative law judge at the Division of Administrative Hearings. Such hearings are an opportunity to prove that the true facts do not support the sought fines, and suspension or revocation of the facility license.

If your facility has received an Administrative Complaint resulting from COVID-19 issues, we can help. Contact an attorney at Smith & Associates today to discuss your rights and options. For additional information on challenging a statement of deficiency or on classification of violations, please see our article Defending Alleged Survey Deficiencies At Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs) and Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs).

Administrative Law Judge Rejects Claim of Sexual Misconduct by Physician

In a recent article, I discussed the ruling by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in the case of Department of Health v. VanBuskirk, which rejected revocation of a physician’s license based on alleged sexual misconduct. See “Physician Discipline Rejected by Judge.” In another Recommended Order entered on March 1, 2020, an ALJ rejected the Department of Health’s claims seeking disciplinary action against a physician based upon allegations of sexual misconduct. See Department of Health v. Khan, DOAH Case No. 20-4079 PL. Unlike the prior case, this most recent decision did not involve a factual dispute over whether a sexual encounter occurred. The physician conceded that a sexual encounter did indeed occur. However, the ALJ found that there was no “physician-patient relationship” because the physician had previously severed the patient relationship months prior to the date of the encounter. The physician previously was the patients’ primary care physician for 13-14 years. However, the patient ended her patient relationship five months prior to the sexual encounter, when she became unhappy with the care and treatment she had received, and her feeling that the physician had committed a major medical error when he ordered the wrong procedure for her. The former patient retained a new primary care provider. She had contacted the physician again by Facebook and asked to see him as a friend. On the day of the encounter, she did not sign in as a patient, was not seen as a patient by staff in a patient room and met with the physician in his private office area. There was no doubt an aggressive and unwelcome sexual advance was made by the physician, but the judge ruled that because there was not an existing physician-patient relationship the actions could not be the basis for a license disciplinary proceeding.

It remains to be seen whether the Department of Health will accept the ALJ’s Recommended Order or will reject the ALJ’s reasoning as to the existence and termination of the physician-patient relationship. (The Agency could reject the conclusion of law interpreting disciplinary rules as being as reasonable or more reasonable than the ALJ conclusion. See 120.57(1(l), Fla. Stat.) Moreover, the physician could still potentially be subject to criminal prosecution, with a conviction supplying a new independent basis for license disciplinary action.

New Law Allows Pharmacists to Diagnose and Treat Certain Medical Conditions

On March 11, 2020, Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 389 into law. This law allows qualified pharmacists the ability to treat chronic illnesses and to test, diagnose, and treat certain minor, non-chronic illnesses.

Treatment of Chronic Illnesses

This new law creates Florida Statute § 465.1865 entitled “Collaborative Pharmacy Practice for Chronic Health Conditions.” This section sets forth the requirements for a pharmacist to treat certain chronic health conditions. Importantly, these chronic health conditions are limited to:

  • Arthritis;
  • Asthma;
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases;
  • Type 2 Diabetes;
  • Human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immune deficiency syndrome;
  • Obesity; and
  • Other chronic conditions that the Board of Pharmacy may allow by future rule making.

Fla. Stat. § 465.1865(1).

To be able to treat these chronic conditions, a pharmacist must enter into a “Collaborative Pharmacy Practice Agreement” with the patient’s licensed physician. This agreement must include:

  • The name of the patient(s) for whom a pharmacist may provide services;
  • The chronic health condition(s) to be managed;
  • The specific drugs to be managed;
  • The circumstances under which the pharmacist may order and evaluate laboratory or clinical tests;
  • The conditions upon which the pharmacist must notify the physician;
  • The beginning and end dates of the treatment; and
  • A statement that the agreement can be terminated at any time by either the pharmacist or the physician.

Fla. Stat. § 465.1865(3)(a).

Additionally, before a pharmacist can treat these chronic conditions, the pharmacists must be certified by the Board of Pharmacy. To obtain this certification, the pharmacists must:

  • Have an active pharmacy license;
  • Have a Doctor of Pharmacy or have completed five years as a licensed pharmacist;
  • Complete a 20-hour course on Collaborative Treatment of Chronic Health Conditions that is approved by the Board of Pharmacy;
  • Maintain at least $250,000 of professional liability insurance; and
  • Have an established system for keeping patient records.

Fla. Stat. § 465.1865(2).

As this law was recently passed, rulemaking has not yet begun. However, as the Board of Pharmacy promulgates rules on collaborative treatment of chronic illnesses, we will provide update with any new developments.

Treatment of Non-Chronic Health Conditions

Additionally, the new law created Florida Statute § 465.1895, which allows for the testing and treatment of minor, non-chronic health conditions by a pharmacist. Minor, non-chronic health conditions include:

  • Influenza;
  • Streptococcus;
  • Lice;
  • Certain skin conditions; and
  • Minor, uncomplicated infections.

Fla. Stat. § 465.1895(1)(a).

Much like the treatment of chronic conditions, a pharmacist who wishes to treat non-chronic, minor illnesses must do so under the supervision of a physician and pursuant to written protocol between the pharmacist and the physician. This protocol must contain:

  • The categories of patients the pharmacist s authorized to treat;
  • The physician’s instruction for obtaining relevant patient medical history;
  • The physician’s instructions for the treatment of the condition based on the patients age, symptoms, and test results; and
  • A process and schedule for the physician to review the pharmacist’s actions and for the pharmacist to notify the physician of his or her actions.

Fla. Stat. § 465.1895(5).

As rule making progresses, new requirements may be added to this list.

Finally, any pharmacist who wishes to treat minor, non-chronic health conditions must be certified by the Board of Pharmacy to do so. To obtain this certification, the pharmacist must, among other things:

  • Hold an active license to practice pharmacy in Florida;
  • Take a 20-hour board approved education course on assessing and treating minor, non-chronic health conditions;
  • Maintain at least $250,000 of liability coverage;
  • Upon request, furnish patient health care records to a health care practitioner designated by the patient; and
  • Maintain patient records for five years.

Fla. Stat. § 465.1895(2).


This new law takes effect on July 1, 2020. Right now, the Board of Pharmacy is in the beginning stages of developing rules to implement this new law. As these rules progress, we will provide any important updates.

If you are a pharmacist who would like to take advantage of this new law and have questions about how to obtain licensing, you should contact an attorney at Smith & Associates to discuss your options.

Agencies Are No Longer Afforded Deference to the Interpretation of Rules and Statutes

On November 6, 2018, the voters of Florida approved a Constitutional Amendment (“Amendment 6”) which, among other things, eliminates the deference given to administrative agencies in interpreting statutes or rules.  Judicial officers are now required to interpret such statutes and rules de novo.

By way of background, the U.S. Supreme Court had previously ruled in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), that courts must defer to an agency’s interpretation of a statute, if based on a permissible construction, when the statute is silent or ambiguous on the issue at bar.  Id.  As such, wide deference was given to administrative agencies in statutory and rule interpretation.  The passage of Amendment 6 to the Florida Constitution, however, requires the state court or administrative law judge to interpret the statute or rule.

Specifically, the amendment creates Section 21 of Article V, Florida Constitution, which provides:

Judicial interpretation of statutes and rules. In interpreting a state statute or rule, a state court or an officer hearing an administrative action pursuant to general law may not defer to an administrative agency’s interpretation of such statute or rule and, instead, must interpret such statute or rule de novo.

What does this mean for cases involving the interpretation of agency rules and statutes? Agencies will be subjected to the most reasonable interpretation of a rule or statute when such rule or statute is at issue in a dispute before a judicial officer or administrative law judge.  As such, parties engaged in litigation with agencies will have the benefit of an unbiased interpretation in cases where their interests are at stake.

Amendment 6 also address two other issues: 1) the retirement age for judges, and 2) victim’s rights in criminal proceedings.  The age of mandatory retirement for the state’s judges will be raised from age 70 to age 75.  However, this will not go into effect until July 1, 2019.  The second issue is the extension of a “bill of rights” for victims of crimes, modeled after a California law.