Ohio Nursing Board Investigations

A person may report to the Ohio Board of Nursing (“Nursing Board”) information the person has that appears to show a violation of a Nursing Board law or rule. The Nursing Board is required to investigate evidence that appears to show a violation of a Nursing Board law or rule.

The Nursing Board employs investigators who are located throughout Ohio. Each complaint received by the Board is assigned to an investigator. The investigator collects and reviews documents and interviews relevant parties.

In most instances, the investigator will also contact the nurse who is the subject of a complaint by phone, email, or correspondence and request the nurse to meet or speak with the investigator to address the concerns in a complaint or to give their “side of the story.”

In Ohio, a nurse’s participation in a Nursing Board investigation is voluntary, however, any information provided to the investigator may be used against the nurse in a Nursing Board disciplinary action.

Further, Ohio Revised Code Section 9.84 provides in part that a person who appears as a witness before any Nursing Board representative in an administrative investigation shall be permitted to be represented and advised by an attorney, and that the person shall be advised of the right to counsel before they are interrogated. We have seen printed on the back of a Nursing Board investigator’s business card the following statement:

“I have been advised by the OBN Agent that (i) I have the right to have an attorney present (per 9.84, ORC) and (ii) my interview is voluntary.”

However, in the stress of meeting with a Nursing Board investigator, a nurse might not take the time to read the card, and, even if they do read the card, they might feel uncomfortable requesting to postpone the meeting after they obtain legal counsel.

It is recommended to request and obtain legal counsel before speaking with or responding in writing to a Nursing Board investigator. Often, nurses are concerned that it will appear that they are hiding something or are uncooperative if they first obtain legal counsel. This is not the case. There are circumstances where it is advisable for a nurse and their legal counsel to meet with a Nursing Board investigator. Legal counsel can assist with protecting your rights, narrowing the issues, and providing guidance concerning the process.

It is also important to note that any information obtained by a Nursing Board investigator can be shared with local law enforcement if information is obtained that appears to show that a nurse has violated a criminal or other law outside of the Nursing Board’s jurisdiction.

As always, if you have a question about this post or the Ohio Board of Nursing in general, please feel free to contact one of the attorneys at the Collis Law Group LLC at 614-486-3909 or email me at beth@collislaw.com.

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You have a right to counsel when meeting with a Nursing Board investigator

The role of the Ohio Board of Nursing is to regulate the practice of nursing. This entails issuing professional licenses to nurses and also investigating and imposing discipline on nurses who violate the Ohio Nurse Practice Act.

Often, a nurse first learns that a complaint has been filed against them with the Nursing Board when they are contacted by a Nursing Board investigator. The Nursing Board has “field” investigators who work throughout Ohio and are each assigned to various geographic regions of the State.  Once a complaint has been filed or initialed against a nurse, an investigator is assigned to conduct the investigation. This may include collecting records from the nurse’s employer or from the Court. It may also include contacting the nurse for a personal interview.

Prior to meeting with the Nursing Board investigator, please understand that under Ohio law, (R.C. 9.84) you have the right to be accompanied, represented and advised by an attorney and you are also required to be advised of the right to counsel BEFORE you are interrogated.

Unlike in a criminal proceeding, you will not be assigned legal counsel for your defense. You are required to seek your own legal counsel to assist in your defense before the Nursing Board or any other administrative agency. However, you have a right to have counsel present.

Many nurses have asked me whether they “look guilty” by attending the meeting with legal counsel or if it “appears that they are hiding something” if they take legal counsel with them to the meeting. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Meetings with investigators can be intimidating, overwhelming and threatening. Any information that is obtained by the investigator can and will be used against you before the Nursing Board. In addition, if the investigator believes that the nurse’s conduct violates the law, they can also alert the local sheriff’s department or criminal Prosecutor, and in certain instances, criminal charges can be issued against a nurse.

While I often encourage nurses to fully cooperate in an investigation, including meeting with the investigator, I highly encourage nurses to retain legal counsel to assist them throughout the investigative and disciplinary process. You have a right to counsel under Ohio law and it is in your interest to exercise this right to protect yourself.

As always, if you have any questions about this post or the Ohio Board of Nursing in general, please contact one of the attorneys at the law firm of Collis, Smiles and Collis, LLC at 614-486-3909 or you may email me at Beth@collislaw.com

When should you self report to the Ohio Board of Nursing?

In certain instances, it may be beneficial to self-report to the Nursing Board, even if not required by law.  How and when should this be done?  There are no simple answers.

In Ohio, the Nursing Board can take a disciplinary action against a nurse who has been convicted of a felony, a misdemeanor committed in the practice of nursing and a misdemeanor involving a “crime of moral turpitude”.  Many crimes fit under the definition of a “moral turpitude”, such as assault charges, domestic violence, sexual imposition, child abuse, neglect, just to name a few.

The Nursing Board is also always on the lookout for nurses who are impaired in their ability to practice because they suffer from drug, alcohol or mental health issues.  The Nursing Board is authorized to take a disciplinary action against a nurse who is unable to practice according to acceptable and prevailing standards of safe nursing care without appropriate treatment, monitoring, or supervision.

When you renew your nursing license, you must disclose to the Nursing Board any convictions that you received since your last renewal.  You must also disclose to the Nursing Board if you have been diagnosed with a substance abuse, dependency, or mental health issue which impairs your ability to practice.  However, as you only renew your license every two years, there are instances where you may want to self-report a conviction or diagnosis to the Nursing Board PRIOR to the time you are to renew your license.  However, WHEN to self-report, WHAT information should be reported, and WHAT supporting documents or information you should provide to the Nursing Board all depend on the individual facts and circumstances in your case.

Therefore, before you self-report to the Nursing Board, you should consider seeking experienced legal counsel to assist you to determine WHEN is the best time to self-report and to make sure you provide correct and complete information to the Nursing Board.

As always, if you have any questions about this post or the Ohio Board of Nursing in general, please feel free to contact one of the attorneys at Collis, Smiles and Collis, LLC at 614-486-3909. You may also look for more information at http://www.collislaw.com.
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Who Monitors the Ohio Board of Nursing?

The Ohio Board of Nursing’s mission is to “actively safeguard the health of the public through the effective regulation of nursing care.” http://www.nursing.ohio.gov/ The Board is responsible for issuing licenses to nurses, to regulate the education of nurses, and to discipline nurses who have violated the provisions of the Ohio Nurse Practice Act. (R.C. 4723). However, most nurses are surprised to learn that the Nursing Board is not created to “protect” nurses but has been created to “protect the public”.

In its role as an administrative licensing agency, the Board holds immense power. The Board has the power to license, deny a license, suspend or revoke a license. The Board can initiate an investigation, may order a licensee to a psychiatric or chemical dependency evaluation. (R.C. 4723.28(G)). However, the Board is not required to complete investigations in any time frame (no statute of limitations) and the Board is NOT REQUIRED to notify a nurse if and when an investigation has been closed. I often contact the Board after an investigation has been pending for months (or even years) to learn that the investigation has been closed and that the nurse was never notified that it was closed.

There is a check and balance system in place for the Nursing Board. Prior to denying an applicant a nursing license, or taking an action against a nurse (ie. suspending or revoking their license) the nurse is entitled under the U.S., Ohio Constitutions and Ohio State law (R.C. 119) the right to due process of law. This means that prior to denying a license or disciplining a nurse, the Board is required to provide the nurse with notification of the charges and a right to be heard (a hearing). Failure to timely request a hearing may bar the nurse from providing any evidence on their behalf.

An adverse decision of the Board may also be appealed to the local Court of Common Pleas. However, most nurses have neither the money, time nor inclination to appeal an adverse decision of the Board to the Courts. This is an expensive process that can take years to complete. In addition, the Courts are reluctant to reverse a decision of the Board and have shown that it will NOT reverse a sanction of the Board simply if it feels the sanction is too harsh.

A second check on the Nursing Board is the Office of the Ohio Inspector General. The Inspector General’s office is the Watchdog that is responsible for investigating state employees and state agencies. Complaints may be filed with the Inspector General by going to their website at: http://watchdog.ohio.gov/FileaComplaint.aspx

As always, if you have any questions about this post or the Ohio Board of Nursing in general, please feel free to contact one of the attorneys at Collis, Smiles and Collis at (614) 486-3909.

Be honest when filing an application or renewal with Ohio Board of Nursing

Honesty is always the best policy when working with the Ohio Board of Nursing.

Professionals should know that before submitting information to a licensing authority the information must be accurate. Whether it is submitting the responses on an initial application for a license, or answering the questions on the bi-annual renewal of a license, the responses must be truthful.

However, I am often asked, “how will the Board know if I answer a question on my renewal application or original application incorrectly?” We never know how the Board may be notified of a violation of their laws and rules. Complaints to the Nursing Board can be anonymous, and the complainant is immune from liability (absent a finding of bad faith in their report). This means that you can be reported to the Board without your knowledge and you will never been provided with a copy of the complaint or the name of the complainant. (O.R.C. 4723.28(H) and (I)(1))

You may have a neighbor, employer or co-worker file a complaint against you with the Board alleging that you had a DUI that you failed to disclose to the Board or violated a section of the Ohio Nurse Practice Act. If you have reported this infraction on your application and/or on your renewal, it goes a long way to possibly having the investigation closed with no disciplinary action. However, if the Board goes back and pulls your application or renewal form and finds that you failed to disclose this information to the Board, the Board has the authority under O.R.C. 4723.28(A) to take an action against your license for providing false or fraudulent information to the Board.

Even without a formal complaint, the Board has the authority to open its own investigation if it learns of a violation of the Nurse Practice Act. If a Board investigator reads a news article about a nurse who has been charged with a DUI or is admitted into a diversion program by the Court, these types of actions can lead the investigator to open an investigation against the nurse. (Please note, that the nurse does not need to self report convictions or violations to the Board until the time of renewal of the license. However, on the renewal application responses need to be truthful and accurate.)

So, when applying for a license or completing a renewal application never ask yourself,”how will the Board ever find out?” The question you should ask yourself is, “what is the right answer and how can I best provide that information to the Board.”

While I encourage nurses to be honest with the Board, I always encourage the nurse to seek experienced legal counsel to assist them if they have any questions about how to respond to specific questions or if they are called to attend a meeting with a Board investigator.

As always, if you have any questions about the Ohio Board of Nursing or this post, please feel free to contact one of the attorneys at Collis, Smiles and Collis at 614-486-3909 or email me at beth@collislaw.com.

Nursing Board discipline .. when to take the deal

Each year, hundreds of nurses face a possible disciplinary action by the Ohio Board of Nursing.  Sanctions can include a reprimand, probation, suspension, license limitations, and even license revocation.  In many cases, the nurse is offered a Consent Agreement, which is similar to a plea bargain in a criminal case, in which the nurse can agree to the terms of discipline.  I am often asked by my clients, “Should I accept the Consent Agreement or should I reject the offer and proceed to a Hearing?”

It is important to first note that whether the nurse enters into a Consent Agreement or proceeds to a Hearing, the Board will issue a final Order against the nurse and that the Order and the sanction imposed against the nurse is a public record which will be on the Board’s website, reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank and www.nursys.com, and published in the Nursing Board’s quarterly magazine, Momentum.

There are pros and cons to accepting a negotiated Consent Agreement.  By entering into a Consent Agreement, the nurse often has the ability to negotiate what factual information concerning the disciplinary action will be included in the Consent Agreement.  Because a disciplinary action is open and available to the public, being able to negotiate the wording of the Consent Agreement is important.  Additionally, the nurse can often negotiate WHEN the sanction will take place or when they will start the conditions for reinstatement of their license (if their license is suspended).  Also, the nurse avoids the stress, expense, and uncertainty of a Hearing.  If a nurse proceeds to a Hearing, nurse has no ability to negotiate the factual summary that is included in the Order or negotiate the sanction to be imposed. The Board has the sole discretion to issue any sanction as noted above.

However, there can be drawbacks to accepting a Consent Agreement. Consent Agreements are negotiated by only one Board member.  In negotiating a Consent Agreement, the nurse waives their right to a Hearing and often regrets not having their “day in court” to tell their “side of the story.”

In determining whether to negotiate a Consent Agreement or proceed to a Hearing, the nurse should consider all options and potential outcomes. These options and potential outcomes, as well as the nurse’s final decision, should be carefully considered, taking into account how the Board has handled similar cases in the past.  Whether through a Consent Agreement or a Hearing, the sanction that is imposed in each case depends on the individual facts and circumstances of the matter.

As always, if you have any questions related to this post or the Ohio Board of Nursing in general, please feel free to contact one of the attorneys at Collis, Smiles in Collis, LLC at 614-386-3909 or email me at beth@collislaw.com

Nursing license suspension can result from a conviction

Under the Ohio Nurse Practice Act, R.C. 4723, the Ohio Board of Nursing can take an action against a nurse for criminal convictions, even if they are NOT related to the practice of nursing.

R.C. 4723.28 (B)(3) allows the Nursing Board to take an action against a nurse who has been convicted of a misdemeanor in the course of practice. This seems obvious. However, under R.C. 4723.28(B)(4) the Nursing Board may take a disciplinary action against a nurse who has been convicted of any felony or a “crime involving gross immorality or moral turpitude.” So even crimes that are not related to the practice of nursing can result in a sanction on your nursing license.

Crimes involving gross immorality or moral turpitude are generally defined as crimes of violence or that “shock the conscience.” Crimes such as for assault or child neglect, easily come to mind as crimes that would involve “gross immorality”. However, crimes involving financial dealings (passing bad checks, bank fraud, tax evasion) have also been found to meet this standard.

The Nursing Board also has the authority to take a disciplinary action against a nurse if they do not have a conviction, but are otherwise permitted to enter into a pre-trial diversion program or are found judicially eligible for a treatment in lieu of conviction program. So, even when they don’t have a formal conviction, the Nursing Board is still authorized to take a disciplinary action against the nurse.

The Nursing Board meets six times per year at monthly meetings where it decides, after an investigation, if a disciplinary action should be taken against a nurse. The Nursing Board met last week and sent letters to over eighty (80) Ohio licensed nurses proposing to take a disciplinary action against them. For many of these nurses, the Board is proposing to discipline them for criminal convictions.

If the Board chooses to discipline a nurse, the nurse will be sent a Notice and given a right to a hearing. It is important that the nurse respond to this Notice in a timely fashion to request a hearing. The Board handles each case on an individual basis and the sanction it chooses to impose on a nurse is often dependent on the information the Nursing Board learns from the nurse or their legal counsel.

As always, if you have any questions about the Ohio Board of Nursing or this post, please feel free to call one of the attorneys at Collis, Smiles and Collis at 614-486-3909 or check out our website at http://www.collislaw.com.