Category Archives: Health Care Law

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: https://www.doah.state.fl.us/ALJ/searchDOAH/.

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.

COVID-19 FACILITY SURVEYS

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).

The IPN/PRN Trap

The stresses put on medical professionals, especially licensed physicians and nurses, can be extreme. Long hours, emergency responses, and dealing with patients’ severe medical issues – some who will not survive – can take an emotional toll on even the strongest doctor or nurse. However, when a medical professional turns to alcohol or drugs to help cope with these issues, the outcomes can be disastrous for both the patients and the professional.

Acknowledging the stresses that medical professionals face, the Florida Legislature authorized the creation of the Professional Resource Network and the Intervention Project for Nurses to help medical professionals (and other licensed professionals) with alcohol and drug abuse problems.

While the programs have lofty and laudable goals, the reality is that, for many professionals who enter these programs, PRN and IPN can become an inescapable nightmare.

How the Trap is Set

The problem starts when a doctor or nurse does something wrong. It can be directly related to patient care, such as showing up to work hungover or impaired, or it can be unconnected to work, such as being charged with Driving Under the Influence (“DUI”). In any case, the Department of Health (“DOH”), which oversees both the Board of Medicine and the Board of Nursing, is notified.

Once DOH is notified, they will evaluate the claim. If DOH believes that the infraction impacts patient care (and DOH almost always believes that the infraction will affect patient care), they will issue an administrative complaint against the doctor or nurse seeking any number of potential remedies, including the imposing of fines and the revocation of the medical or nursing license.

However, once the administrative complaint is served, DOH will typically offer what seems like a very reasonable resolution, especially when the potential alternative is having the license revoked. That resolution involves the doctor or nurse agreeing to sign up for PRN or IPN and have their license suspended until they complete the program. DOH will also usually require that the investigative costs be paid as well.

The doctor or nurse, faced with the choice of either accepting this settlement or being forced to hire an attorney to fight these claims and potentially lose their license, believes that this is a reasonable solution and agrees to the settlement.

Once the agreement is signed and incorporated into a Final Order, the doctor or nurse must sign an agreement with PRN or IPN, agreeing to follow all its terms and agreeing to follow whatever medical treatment the program believes is appropriate, otherwise the doctor or nurse will be terminated from the program. Now the trap is set.

The Trap Gets Sprung

What many doctors and nurses who enter PRN or IPN do not realize is that, while it is an independent, non-governmental entity, if it cancels the contract with the doctor or nurse, that is an independent reason for DOH to revoke the doctor or nurse’s license. Fla. Stat. § 456.072(1)(hh). Thus, when PRN or IPN “recommend” a course of treatment – no matter how extreme or expensive – it must be followed, or the contract will be terminated. If the contract is terminated – DOH will almost certainly seek to revoke the license.

What happens to many people involved in these programs is that, regardless of what brought them there, they are “prescribed” an intensive program that involves no alcohol and bears significant costs, such as Intensive Outpatient Program Treatment. There is no opportunity for the doctor or nurse to appeal this decision – they must comply.

This is where the trap gets sprung. The doctor or nurse is already out of work due to the license suspension and now they are spending any accumulated savings on the initial program. Further, despite whether the person believes they have an alcohol problem or not, they are forbidden from having any alcohol. If that doctor or nurse has a urine test positive for alcohol (or voluntarily admits to using alcohol), even if it was a single, social drink – the trap is sprung.

Once there is any non-compliance, no matter how small, the provider will then “prescribe” an even more extreme program such as inpatient treatment. These programs can cost over $40,000 and must be attended or the contract will be cancelled. People who have already had their license suspended, who are out of work, and who have already spent any savings they had on the prior treatment, cannot afford this treatment. Regardless, if they do not attend, the contract will be cancelled and DOH will then seek to revoke the license. The practitioner is now trapped – pay money they don’t have for treatment they don’t need or lose their license.

“Good Cause” Defenses

The statute at issue allows DOH to revoke the license for:

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.

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

A reasonable person may think that not having the money to comply with the treatment plan would constitute “good cause” or that being prescribed a treatment plan that doesn’t align with the problems the person is facing would constitute “good cause,” but the administrative law judges (“ALJ”) and the Department of Health would disagree.

While “good cause” is not defined in the statute, ALJs have limited its application to situations that make it almost superfluous for the Legislature to have included. As one ALJ wrote, “[s]ome examples of good cause for failing to comply with the terms of an impaired practitioner monitoring contract, as found in one DOAH case, include 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.” Department of Health v. Grace Mary Guastella, M.D., DOAH Case Number 2013-12197 (DOAH 2017). Thus, according to these ALJs, unless you are active duty military, so disabled as to not be able to practice, or dead, you don’t have good cause to violate the treatment plan.

Once a practitioner is trapped in PRN or IPN, even if it only started out as “drinking alcoholic beverages, if only socially on rare occasion,” whatever the recommended course of treatment is, no matter how intense or expensive, it must be followed or the contract will be terminated and DOH will seek to revoke the license. Department of Health v. Grace Mary Guastella, M.D., DOAH Case Number 17-2923PL (DOAH 2018).

At least as the law stands, as interpreted by DOH and ALJs, good cause is rare and doesn’t provide the protection that a reasonable person reading the statute would believe it would provide.

Potential Challenges

One potential challenge that a practitioner caught in this trap could make is that the “good cause” exception has been read too narrowly and should encompass the ability to pay for the treatment and the medical necessity of the treatment. To date, no successful challenges to the existing “good cause” factors has been made. However, with passage of Amendment 6 to Florida’s Constitution in 2018, judges no longer need to defer to an administrative agency’s (like DOH) interpretation of a statute. See http://smithlawtlh.com/agencies-longer-afforded-deference-interpretation-rules-statutes/

In almost any other context, before a court can impose a penalty due to a person’s failure to pay some fine or court ordered payment (e.g., restitution, court fines, and child support), the Court must first determine if the person has the ability to pay. If the person does not have the ability to pay, then the Court cannot punish the person for not paying. See Del Valle v. State, 80 So. 3d 999, 1002 (Fla. 2011) (“an automatic revocation of probation without evidence presented as to ability to pay to support the trial court’s finding of willfulness violates due process.”); Vincent v. State, 699 So. 2d 806, 807 (Fla. 1st DCA 1997) (“In order to revoke a defendant’s probation based on a failure to pay restitution, a trial court must find that the defendant had the ability to pay the restitution not only before ordering restitution [but also] before revoking probation for failure to pay restitution imposed as a condition thereof.”); and Pompey v. Cochran, 685 So. 2d 1007, 1009 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997) (“finding that Pompey’s incarceration was unlawful because there was no evidence at all to support the trial court’s affirmative finding that the petitioner had the ability to pay a [back child support].”).

A strong argument could be made that the ALJ’s limited interpretation of the “good cause” exception and the imposition of sanctions without determining the practitioner’s ability to pay violates the statute and the practitioner’s due process rights.

There is also a potential challenge to the entire PRN/IPN setup as a violation of 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.

Based on the foregoing, there is a strong argument to be made that both PRN and IPN are unconstitutional and, without additional guidance from the Legislature, they should not be permitted at all or, at the very least, DOH cannot take action against a practitioner for not complying with the terms of a PRN or IPN contract or course of treatment.

Conclusion

If you are being offered IPN or PRN as a term of settlement or if you have already agreed to PRN or IPN and are having trouble meeting their requirements, you should contact an experienced health care attorney to discuss your rights.

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).

Conclusion

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.

Autonomous Practice and Nurse Practitioners: What the New Florida Law Holds in Store

On March 11, 2020, only hours after it was passed by the Florida Legislature, Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 607 into law. Importantly, this new law allows “advanced practice registered nurses” to be licensed for autonomous practice. Once this law takes effect on July 1, 2020, qualified nurse practitioners will be able to get licensed for autonomous practice and be able to set up their own practices without the need for physician supervision. However, with this new opportunity, new issues arise for nurse practitioners who want to set up their own shop. This article discusses the requirements to be licensed for autonomous practice and some issues that nurse practitioners may face if they want to set out on their own.

Requirements to Be Licensed for Autonomous Practice

HB 607 creates Section 464.0123, Florida Statutes, entitled “Autonomous Practice by an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse.” This new law sets forth the requirements for an advanced practice registered nurse to be licensed to practice autonomously. Specifically, this new law requires that an applicant for autonomous practice:

  • Hold an active, unencumbered license to practice advanced nursing;
  • Not have any disciplinary action within the past five years;
  • Completed 3,000 hours of clinical practice (including clinical instruction hours) within the past five years; and
  • Completed three graduate level semester hours in differential diagnosis and three graduate level semester hours in pharmacology within the past five years.

Fla. Stat. § 464.0123 (1).

The statute also provides that the Board of Nursing may add additional requirements through the rulemaking process. While the rulemaking process has not yet begun, any nurse practitioner looking to start an autonomous practice should keep abreast of this process.
Additionally, the new law requires that autonomous nurse practitioners must demonstrate the financial responsibility to pay any malpractice claims that may arise. This can be accomplished by either of the following methods:

  • Maintaining professional liability coverage in an amount not less than $100,000 per claim, with a minimum annual aggregate of not less than $300,000; or
  • Maintaining an unexpired, irrevocable letter of credit in an amount of not less than $100,000 per claim, with a minimum annual aggregate availability of credit of not less than $300,000.

Fla. Stat. § 464.0123(2)(a).

Practice Requirements

The new law also sets forth the practice requirements for autonomous nurse practitioners. Specifically, the new law allows for autonomous practice nurse practitioners to:

  • Engage in autonomous primary care practice, including family medicine, general pediatrics, and general internal medicine;
  • For certified nurse midwives, engage in autonomous practice for the following:
    • Perform superficial minor surgical procedures;
    • Manage the patient during labor and delivery to include amniotomy, episiotomy, and repair;
    • Order, initiate, and perform appropriate anesthetic procedures.
    • Perform postpartum examinations;
    • Order appropriate medications;
    • Provide family-planning services and well-woman care; and
    • Manage the medical care of the normal obstetrical patient and the initial care of a newborn patient.
  • Perform general functions of an advanced practice registered nurse;
  • For patients that require the services of a health care facility, they can:
    • Admit and discharge patients; and
    • Manage the care of the patient in the facility.
  • Provide a signature, certification, stamp, verification, affidavit, or endorsement that is otherwise required to be provided by a physician, with the notable exception that they cannot provide medical marijuana certifications.

Fla. Stat. § 464.0123(3)(a).

Additionally, the new law requires that certified nurse midwifes must have a written transfer agreement with a hospital and a written referral agreement with a licensed physician. Fla. Stat. § 464.0123(3)(b). Finally, the law prohibits autonomous nurse practitioners from performing any surgical procedure other than a subcutaneous procedure. Fla. Stat. § 464.0123(3)(c).

Issues with Autonomous Practice

Nurse practitioners looking to establish their own practice will now face many of the same issues that physicians face. The first issue is existing employment agreements. Many nurse practitioners were forced to sign employment agreements either with their physician practice group or hospital when they began their employment. Many of these employment agreements contain restrictive covenants, governing when and where employees can work after terminating their current job (e.g., they may prevent the nurse practitioner from working at any competitive practice within 20 miles of the current practice for three years). Additionally, these employee agreements may also contain prohibitions on soliciting patients or employees. Any nurse practitioner seeking to establish an autonomous practice needs to first understand what restrictions are contained in any current employment agreement and the validity of those restrictions.

Next, nurse practitioners should decide the type of business entity that should be formed. As licensed professionals, nurse practitioners, in addition to the normal business entity options, will have the ability to form Professional Associations or Professional Limited Liability Corporations in Florida. What business entity a nurse practitioner should choose is very fact intensive and depends on an individual’s circumstances. However, in any event, it is strongly recommended that any nurse practitioner seeking to start their own practice consult with competent legal and tax professionals to establish the business entity.

In conjunction with the above, nurse practitioners may want to form their own practice groups with multiple nurse practitioners. If this is the case, in addition to the business entity formation documents, agreements between the owners of the practice group need to be created. These agreements can be complex but are very necessary. Owners of these practice groups, much like owners of physician practice groups, need to consider numerous issues to ensure that the practice group can continue to function through changes that naturally occur over time. For example, what if an owner wants to retire? What if one wants to quit and set up a new practice group across the street? What if an owner passes away? Further, when practice groups are formed, additional licensure in the form of a health care clinic license from the Agency for Health Care Administration may be required. These and many more questions need to be addressed at the outset to minimize future uncertainty.

In addition, much like physician practice groups, nurse practitioners will need to adopt their own employee agreements, employment handbooks, and employee policies and procedures.

Finally, and probably most importantly, autonomous nurse practitioners need to be able to bill private and government insurance. This includes getting a Medicare/Medicaid provider number and reviewing insurance contracts and Medicare/Medicaid provider agreements.
Nurse practitioners seeking to start their own autonomous practice should seek out legal counsel to assist at each of these steps.

Conclusion

Courthouses are filled with lawsuits from physicians who wanted to start their own practice but failed to properly plan for issues that a competent attorney could have warned them would arise. As nurse practitioners begin to start their own practices, they will face the same issues and should take the same precautions that physician practices do to protect themselves and the future of their practice.
Smith & Associates has extensive experience representing physicians and physician practice groups. If you are a nurse practitioner seeking to take advantage of this new law and start your own autonomous practice, you should contact an attorney at Smith & Associates to discuss your rights and options.

Outpatient Prospective Payment Systems

The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) hosted a public meeting on September 17, 2015, to discuss the development of an Outpatient Prospective Payment System (OPPS) to replace the current “cost-based per visit” rate methodology. The stated goal of this payment method conversion is to help control healthcare spending increases while continuing to maintain access to services for Florida’s Medicaid populations.

To assist with this development, AHCA contracted with private consulting company Navigant Healthcare which has offered options between two popular OPPS models that have been adopted by other states. Once a preliminary decision is made on a model, Navigant and AHCA will send its recommendations to the Legislature before the next session.

Currently, Navigant and AHCA are leaning towards adopting an Enhanced Ambulatory Patient Grouping System (EAPG), which involves bundling procedures and medical visits that share similar characteristics and pays one base rate to the provider to cover all of the bundled services. The rates, which have yet to be formulated, will be based on a review of average historical data measured from diagnosis codes and claims paid to outpatient providers from fiscal year 2013-14.

The other OPPS model being considered is the Ambulatory Payment Classification (APC) model. According to Navigant, the APC model provides less bundling for procedures and ancillary services (and, subsequently, more “a la carte” payments) than the EAPG model. The APC model excludes many services – including laboratory, pathology, physical therapy and DMEs – which must be paid under other fee schedules. EAPGs require proprietary grouper software (from Navigant?) and will be less familiar to providers compared to the APC model, which is linked to Medicare’s payment system.

Two more public meetings will be scheduled before AHCA submits recommendations for an OPPS to the Florida Legislature on November 30, 2015. Legislation regarding a new payment system is expected to be passed during the 2016 Session, and then implemented on July 1, 2016.

For more information about AHCA’s development of the OPPS, please contact an attorney at Smith & Associates.

Qui Tam False Claims Act Lawsuit Unsealed Today

Today, a judge in the Middle District of Florida unsealed a Qui Tam complaint against Liberty Ambulance Services, Inc., Southern Baptist Hospital of Florida, Inc., Memorial Medical Care Group, Inc., Orange Park Medical Center, Inc., and Shands Jacksonville Medical Center, Inc. In this complaint (which can be read here), the relator, Shawn Pelletier, states that these defendants routinely charged or overcharged Medicare and Medicaid for ambulance transportation.

Pelletier worked as an emergency medical technician for the defendant Liberty Ambulance Service. He claims that the defendants routinely “omitted and/or misrepresented the medical condition of the patient being transported… on the certificate of medical necessity.” This, he claims, allowed Liberty Ambulance Services to bill Medicare and Medicaid at a higher rate and allowed the hospital defendants to “discharge and transport patients without costs.” He is asking that the Court impose damages in the amount of “three times the damages to the Federal Government and civil penalties of no more than Eleven Thousand Dollars ($11,000.00) and no less than Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00) for each false claim[.]” These damages are provided by statute. The government will receive the majority of this money, but Pelletier, as the relator, will receive between 15 and 25 percent of that award.

According to a notice by the government, also unsealed today (which can be read here), the government has reached a settlement with the defendant hospitals, but no settlement has been reached with Liberty Ambulance Service and the government is intervening in the case against Liberty.

Qui Tam and False Claims Act lawsuits are complex matters that require an in-depth knowledge of Medicare and Medicaid along with the specific provisions of the False Claims Act. If you have been notified by the government that you are under investigation for a violation of the False Claims Act, you need experienced and knowledgeable attorneys protecting your rights. At Smith & Associates, we understand Medicare and Medicaid billing and the requirements imposed on healthcare providers. Our experienced litigators will fight aggressively for you.

If you are an employee in the health care industry and you are aware of improper government billing, our experienced healthcare attorneys can help you evaluate your claim and help you receive between 15 and 25% of any recovery the government obtains.

Medicare Incentives for Doctors to Adopt, Implement or Upgrade Electronic Health Records

Under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), federal incentive payments are available to doctors when they adopt electronic health records and demonstrate use in ways that can improve quality, safety and effectiveness of care. Doctors can receive as much as $44,000 over a five-year period through Medicare. There is no minimum amount of Medicare that the doctor must provide to be eligible for the federal incentive money and the amount of incentive is not dependent upon the cost expended in adopting, implementing or upgrading the electronic health records. Incentives can even be paid for upgrades that occurred prior to the adoption of the HITECH stimulus so long as the electronic health records are maintained with a properly certified compatible technology. However time is quickly running out to receive the maximum amount of incentive payments. February 29, 2012, is the last day for eligible professionals to register and attest to 2011 electronic health records.

WHO IS A MEDICARE ELIGIBLE PROFESSIONAL?

A Medicare eligible professional is a doctor of medicine or osteopathy, a doctor of dental surgery or dental medicine, a doctor of podiatric medicine, a doctor of optometry, or a chiropractor, who is legally authorized to practice under state law. Hospital-based doctors who furnish substantially all their services in a “hospital setting” (90% or more) are not eligible for incentive payments.

WHAT ARE THE PAYMENT TERMS?

In general, a qualifying eligible professional can receive an initial incentive payment as high as $18,000 if their first payment year is 2011 or 2012. Otherwise, the initial incentive payments go down on a sliding scale for every year that goes by before the eligible professional joins the program. The maximum amount of total incentive payments that an eligible provider can receive under the Medicare program is $44,000, unless the eligible professional predominantly furnishes services in a geographic health professional shortage area, in which case they are eligible for a 10 percent increase, totaling $48,400.

WHAT IS MEANINGFUL USE?

The eligible provider must demonstrate meaningful use to continue receiving incentives and those who do not successfully demonstrate meaningful use will be subject to payment adjustments beginning in 2015. Currently, the process for proving meaningful use is merely an attestation form. There are 25 criteria for meaningful use, 15 of the 25 are required criteria and 10 are elective criteria. Eligible providers must satisfy all 15 core criteria (unless they are inapplicable to the particular medical specialty, in which case they will be considered met) and 5 of the other ten criteria (again any inapplicable criteria count as being met). In the future, additional more qualitative criteria will be developed to determine meaningful use.

Revalidation Required for Continued Medicare Payments

All Medicare-enrolled providers should be on the look-out for a “revalidation letter” from their Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC) between now and March 23, 2012. The notices are being sent in accordance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), Section 6401(a), which requires CMS to reevaluate all providers and suppliers enrolled with Medicare prior to March 25, 2011, under new screening guidelines. Newly enrolled providers and suppliers that submitted their enrollment applications to CMS on or after March 25, 2011, are not impacted.

To ease the burden on providers, the revalidation process will be prompted by MACs. Under existing guidelines (42 CFR 424.515(d)) CMS is permitted to conduct off-cycle revalidations for certain program integrity purposes. Therefore, MACs will be sending revalidation letters and instructions to each provider in stages. Upon receipt of a revalidation letter, the provider (or supplier) will have 60 days from the date of the letter to submit enrollment information and the 2011 application fee of $505. (Physicians, non-physician practitioners, physician group practices and non-group practices are not required to pay the enrollment fee.)

How to complete the revalidation process

When you receive notification from your MAC to revalidate, you have two options: 1) update your enrollment via the Internet-based PECOS; or 2) complete and submit the appropriate CMS 855 paper application for 2011.

PECOS allows you to review information currently on file, update and submit your revalidation via the Internet. First go to https://pecos.cms.hhs.gov on the CMS website. Once you have submitted your revalidation, you must then print, sign, date, and mail the certification statement (along with all required supporting documentation) to your MAC.

To revalidate by paper, download the appropriate and current CMS-855 Medicare Enrollment application from the CMS website at www.cms.hhs.gov/cmsforms. Mail your completed application, along with all required supporting documentation, to the MAC address on your revalidation letter.

Second, all institutional providers and suppliers must submit an enrollment fee via the Pay.Gov online service. To pay your application fee, go to http://www.pay.gov and type “CMS” in the search box under Find Public Forms, and click the GO button. Click on the CMS Medicare “Application Fee” link. Complete the form and submit payment as directed. You may submit your fee by electronic check, debit, or credit card. A confirmation screen will display indicating that payment was successfully made. This confirmation screen is your receipt and you should print it for your records. CMS strongly recommends that you mail a copy of this receipt to the Medicare contractor along with the Certification Statement for the enrollment application. CMS will notify the Medicare contractor that the application fee has been paid. Revalidations are processed only when fees have cleared. If needed, providers can request a waiver of the application fee if hardship can be verified.

What happens if a provider fails to revalidate?

Medicare providers and suppliers have 60 calendar days from the postmark date of the revalidation letter to submit the completed enrollment forms and pay the fee. Failure to comply as requested may result in the deactivation of your Medicare billing privileges. As stated in 42 CFR § 424, if an application is not received within 60 calendar days from the date of the request, CMS must revoke the provider’s billing privileges and impose a 1-year re-enrollment bar. It is important to note that a revocation, in this situation, will be effective 30 days after the notification of such action is mailed. The notice of revocation will also include your right to appeal. All appeals must be submitted in a timely manner to allow a re-examination of the revocation.

CMS is urging providers and suppliers to refrain from submitting a revalidation until your MAC notifies you to do so.  Proactively submitting a revalidation will significantly impact the ability to process applications in a timely fashion as well as the ability to take advantage of innovative technologies and streamlined enrollment processes currently under development by the CMS. If you would like to check to see if a revalidation letter has been sent, you can check online at: https://www.highmarkmedicareservices.com/enrollment/status.html. The provider’s CCN is needed to perform a search. For each CCN entered, a message will display advising whether or not a revalidation letter has been issued. If a revalidation letter has been issued, the date of the HMS request and revalidation application due date will be provided.

If you have questions about the revalidation process, or have received a notice of deactivation of Medicare billing privileges, please feel free to contact one of the attorneys at Smith & Associates for assistance.

Second ALF Workgroup Meeting Nets Few Recommendations

The second meeting for the Governor’s Assisted Living Workgroup, held last week on the University of South Florida’s campus in Tampa, fell short of producing any substantive recommendations that the entire panel would back. While representatives of various agencies gave presentations with their recommendations to improve ALF oversight, ALF operators were quick to point out problems with those recommendations.

In one example, Kathryn Hyer, an associate professor and director at USF’s School of Aging Studies, strongly recommended that ALF operators be required to have a bachelor’s degree in a health care-related field. Several members on the ALF panel stated that monies received for the care of ALF residents would never cover the cost of hiring an administrator with such education. Currently, Medicaid only reimburses assisted living facilities up to $32.20 per day for services provided to waiver residents.

Molly McKinstry, Deputy Secretary for Health Quality Assurance at the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), presented an overview of the state and local government’s role and responsibilities in regulating ALFs. Ms. McKinstry noted that Florida has experienced a 30-percent increase in the number of ALFs over the last several years, with more than half of all facilities having six or fewer beds. AHCA’s recommendations for improving ALF oversight included a revision of the complaint survey process to reflect a model used by Wisconsin, and to incorporate the following:

• An enhanced focus on the residents;
• Concentration on resident and family interviews, observations and record review;
• Improved consistency of surveys;
• Abbreviated surveys for high-performing ALFs (i.e., no history of complaints, consistent ownership, consistently good surveys).

The meeting ended with workgroup’s chairman, Larry Polivka, requesting panel members to read over the Florida Senate Committee on Health Regulation’s report on ALF oversight and warned members to be ready to discuss them at the last meeting, to be held in Miami in early November.

The Senate Committee report identified problems with AHCA’s survey and inspection process in that AHCA is not generating enough revenue from fees and fines to adequately fund the necessary number of ALF inspections needed in light of the increases in facilities. The report recommended more abbreviated inspections for facilities in compliance with the law, while requiring more frequent and extensive inspections of those ALFs that have recurring deficiencies.

The Senate report also recommended increased training and qualifications of Core Training Providers, which train ALF administrators. The report raises the possibility of returning the responsibility of core training back to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA), which was the agency with primary responsibility before the role was privatized in 2003 by the Florida Legislature. Other related suggestions included expanding the core training curriculum, increasing administrator qualifications to require a 2-4 year degree with coursework in gerontology or health care, increasing staff training and examinations, increasing staffing ratios at ALFs, and requiring special elopement training for staff members.

To ensure that AHCA consistently enforces penalties on poor-performing ALFs, the Senate report recommends legislation that removes the agency’s discretion to reduce administrative fines, moratoriums and other penalties when certain deficiencies or violations are discovered. Additionally, it was noted that consumers would benefit from an easy-to-use rating system (similar to Nursing Home Compare) that could be coordinated by the Ombudsman’s Office to help families make informed decisions about choosing an ALF.

Finally, the Senate report recommends streamlining agency oversight over those areas where more than one state agency performs a function in the regulatory process of ALFs.

While a site for the next meeting in Miami has not yet been announced, the panel is considering a two-day meeting on November 7-8, 2011.

If you have any questions regarding the workgroup or issues relating to ALF operation, regulation or agency action taken against your ALF, please feel free to contact one of the attorneys at Smith & Associates.