Federal Judge Allows Class Action to Proceed Against Michigan’s Professional Health Program in Groundbreaking Decision

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Via: http://www.thehealthlawfirm.com/

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

On April 1, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur J. Tarnow approved a crucial step in a class action lawsuit filed against the Michigan Health Professionals Recovery Program (HPRP) brought by a group of medical professionals.An Abuse of Power?

The Michigan HPRP was originally designed to monitor health care professionals suffering from a mental health or substance abuse impairment that affected their ability to safely work in their chosen medical profession. A group of health professionals filed suit and claimed the program was abusing its authority and demanding medically unnecessary treatment backed up with the threat of license suspension. The Defendants filed a motion to dismiss which was denied in part and granted in part in a recent federal court ruling.  To read the order denying HPRP’s motion to dismiss, click here.


Groundbreaking Ruling.

Judge Tarnow found that Michigan health professionals were intended beneficiaries of the state contract for HPRP.  Therefore, they could, in fact, sue to enforce the terms of the contract as third party beneficiaries. This decision is groundbreaking because it is the first time that a federal judge has found that physician health program (PHP) participants are intended beneficiaries of a state physician health program’s contract. Currently, most states do have some form of PHP.  However, there are allegations that many are plagued with mismanagement and abuses, including conflicts of interest and being operated to make a profit. As a result of the judge’s ruling, health professionals may have added leverage to demand strict enforcement of their State’s PHP contract.

Additionally, Judge Tarnow found that health professionals with substance abuse issues or those who are falsely believed to have substance abuse issues qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This move is favorable for the health professional community, especially those individuals facing addiction issues.  It sends a clear message to PHPs that they cannot breach their contracts or engage in disability discrimination without being held accountable for their actions.

To read the class action complaint filed against HPRP, click here.

To learn more about how The Health Law Firm can assist you in situations like this, please visit our Areas of Practicepage on our website.

Click here to read one of my prior blogs about the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) Evaluation for all Applicants with History of Mental Problems or Substance Abuse.

The Florida Department of Health‘s (DOH) “impaired practitioners program” is administered by the Professionals Resource Network (PRN) and the Intervention Project for Nurses (IPN). IPN is responsible for all nurses and works with and through the Florida Board of Nursing. The Florida Board of Medicine and all other professional licensing boards in the DOH have contracted with and use the services provided by Professionals Resource Network (PRN).

There have been criticisms aired in the media regarding these programs.  In order to be sure you are fully aware of all sides of the situation, you may want to review these, at:
www.wptv.com/longform/are-fl-doctors-and-nurses-being-sent-to-rehab-unnecessarily
and
www.nbc-2.com/story/33043200/nbc2-investigators-nurses-sent-to-rehab-whether-needed-or-not
Contact a Health Law Attorney Experienced in the Representation of Health Care Providers in Board of Pharmacy Cases.

The Health Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced in dealing with the Board of PharmacyPRN, and licenseapplications.  Our attorneys can help you get your application and supporting documentation together and present it to the Board in the most effective way possible.

Our firm has extensive experience in representing physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other professionals accused of drug abuse, alcohol impairment, mental impairment and sexual boundary issue, as well as in dealing with the Professionals Resource Network (PRN), its advantages and disadvantages, its contracts, its personnel, and its policies and procedures.

For more information please visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com or call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Sources: 

“Federal Judge Gives “Green Light” On Class Action Against HPRP, Michigan’s Professional Health Program (PHP).” Chapman Law Group. (April 1, 2018). Web.

“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).” ADA. (April 23, 2018). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

 

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Class Action Lawsuit Hits Michigan Professional Health Program

Class Action Lawsuit Hits Michigan Professional Health Program

State Physician Health Programs Scurry to Avoid Legal Action, Doctors Outraged

A  lawsuit was filed in Federal Court in March against the organization that monitors impaired professionals for the Michigan State Board of Medicine, alleging constitutional violations, financial conflicts, lack of oversight, and due process.  Three mid-level providers are claiming damages as a result of actions taken by the Health Professional Recovery Program (HPRP), originally established to provide health professionals with a confidential and non-disciplinary approach  to dealing with substance abuse disorders and mental health issues.

The HPRP, administered by a private contractor, was initially designed to monitor treatment of health professionals referred to them by providers.  But plaintiffs claim the program’s administrators are overruling treatment decisions by board-certified and licensed physicians in favor of coercion of individuals into a small group of selected treatment facilities that are also charged with providing an initial evaluation of the need for treatment. Treatment facilities are expensive, and in most cases, insurance companies don’t consider these admissions to be medically necessary.

In one case cited in the court filing, the plaintiff was told she would have to stop taking pain medication prescribed by her treating physician for a period of two years. This decision was made after a short evaluation during which the evaluator did not contact the treating provider, and when the plaintiff refused to agree, her nursing license was summarily suspended. Her suspension was later dissolved in court. This is one small example, but it’s telling, Last time I checked, doctors had the right to choose a healthcare provider. It is surprising that the Michigan Medical Board would support a policy that essentially declares many of their own licensees inadequate to provide a treatment plan.

Unfortunately, this is not the only professional health program faced with backlash for financial double dealing and coercion. North Carolina physicians’ complaints promoted the North Carolina State Auditor to investigate oversight by the medical board in that state, and she found evidence of lack of oversight and the appearance of conflict of interest. Money flowed directly from the “impaired physician program” to their “approved providers” in the form of scholarships for the doctors they referred.

A common pattern has emerged in the treatment of doctors for mental illness or substance abuse. Agencies that were originally installed as volunteer boards aimed at helping doctors return to practice safely have been populated with a new group of professionals – doctors who are closely tied to treatment facilities or drug testing companies who frequently have their own history of substance abuse issues.

A recent string of posts on SERMO, the world’s largest physician-only social network, received a lot of attention. It is clear there have been a lot of abuses, sharing of confidential information, and lack of due process for participants. Many object to the religious overtones of every program that is “approved” for doctors by the Federation of State Physician Health Committees, the parent organization that has formed to keep all state committees notified of talking points. Physicians are currently subjected to polygraph tests, a practice most Americans would never accept. The term “disruptive physician” is an easy way to target those who speak out against a system that has become adversarial.

There are 400 suicide deaths annually among US physicians. Many of these doctors suicide when under investigation or contract with the committees originally designed to help them return to health. Other doctors are afraid to speak out, for fear of reprisal, particularly when in a contract with their PHP.

Have you heard of a colleague who has self-reported or has been reported for mental health or substance issues? Perhaps you have experienced a period of mental health crisis in your own life. How did you handle reporting requirements? What rights should doctors enjoy?