If you are a physical therapist in Long Island, then you know how critical it is to maintain your license. The state disciplinary board has a significant amount of control over the status of your license. They granted it, and they can take it away. They typically suspend or revoke a license as a punishment or penalty following a disciplinary investigation. For that reason, you need to understand how the board works, what it can do, and how a lawyer can help you. Failing to do careful research about this topic leaves you open to losing your livelihood. In this article, we will describe the board for you so that you see the kind of risk you face and point out where and how the presence of a lawyer will protect your interests.
The state-level agencies governing physical therapists have broad powers to regulate the profession. While you may think the main legal risk you face is malpractice suits, in reality board investigations are more common and just as dangerous. Any kind of complaint can bring on an investigation from the state board, and that complaint can come from just about anyone. The board does not put much effort into whether the compliant was valid before starting an investigation. They reserve that for the full investigation.
The broad oversight that these boards hold means they do not limit their investigations to the quality of your work as a professional. Instead, any area of your life is fair game. That is a daunting prospect. Nobody is perfect, and an investigation that looks hard enough could find problematic items in even the best physical therapist’s background. As you will see shortly, there are many different potential red flags an investigation could uncover. That is why it is such a good idea to have a lawyer involved as early in the process as possible.
The first and most obvious area that an investigation could target is your professional life. Your work as a physical therapist is, of course, subject to oversight to ensure that the care you deliver is as good as it can be. The board also wants to make sure that you conduct yourself in a way that is in accordance with the profession’s code of ethics. This extends beyond the clinical setting to teaching, consulting, and any other occupation in which you are using your license and authority as a physical therapist. If you are just volunteering then you are still relying on your skills and training, and therefore your actions are subject to the oversight of the state board.
Your personal life is private, in theory, but in practice it is just as vulnerable as your professional life. There is a laundry list of things that can set off an investigative board, and many of them have nothing to do with practicing physical therapy. For example, any incidents related to alcohol, like physical conflicts or driving under the influence, can kick off an investigation. That includes other intoxicants like marijuana or other drugs as well, and using them illegally will amplify the problem. An ongoing series of incidents related to drugs or alcohol is particularly troubling to the board. Legal proceedings, like disputes over child or spousal support or similar relationship issues, can and will attract the attention of the board. Again, these frequently have little to no impact on the quality of your work, but they are still potential triggers for investigations. Any kind of written, verbal, or electronic communication is subject to scrutiny. Be particularly careful about relationships with patients or their families. These are frequent triggers and have significant scope for misconduct, so ensure that all such relationships are always professional and appropriate.
Even your personal finances are targets. If you have trouble with debt, for example, then the board might consider that worth investigating. This is particularly hard for new physical therapists who make less money and are struggling to stay on top of student loans and other debt. A bankruptcy, a default on a loan, or other operations might be necessary, but could lead to investigations or make current investigations more serious.
Keep in mind that any of these incidents do not take place in isolation. They build on each other and one investigation might trigger another. This is the case, for example, if you hold licenses in multiple states or apply for a new license in a different state. Having a past investigation might cause other state boards to investigate the same incident, and this could happen at any time. Any investigation in one state can trigger investigations in other states in a cascading pattern that could leave you unable to practice anywhere. This carries over into the future. If you are terminated from a job, this could cause you to be investigated in your current state of practice and all future states in which you apply to work. Even if an investigation only ends in a warning, other states might take notice and investigate on their own, and their investigations might not end as favorably. This is yet another reason to get in touch with a lawyer as soon as possible– one investigation can put your entire future career at risk all over the country.
There are three main types of penalties that an investigation can impose. The first is the warning. This is just what it sounds like. The board has decided that you acted with misconduct, but the violation was not bad enough to merit losing your license. This is still concerning, because as noted above other states might follow up, and it will reduce your standing for any future investigations you undergo. The next is a temporary suspension of your license. This will prevent you from working as a physical therapist for a set time period, and it is a sign of serious danger. The board might tell you to take specific steps to reduce your risk of future incidents, and you should take that advice. The third and most dangerous punishment is a revocation of your license. In theory, this is permanent, although in practice you can usually apply to be reinstated. There is typically at least a three-year waiting period before you can apply to get your license back. During that time, be sure to stay on top of your skills and professional development, because you will face a test of your knowledge as part of the process. You also need to show the board that you regret what happened and that you are taking steps to prevent it from happening again. Don’t wait to start this: begin as soon as you can so the board will take you seriously.
As you can see, an investigation from the disciplinary board is a major concern for Long Island physical therapists. You should consult a lawyer if you even suspect you might be facing an investigation. They can guide you through the process and help safeguard your license. The consequences are dire, so do not try to fight through it on your own