To become an occupational therapist or occupational therapy assistant in California is no easy task. Besides years of intensive training and perseverance through a complex study course, there is also the tedious, expensive process of applying for and getting your professional license approved.
And keeping your occupational therapist license can be as much of a challenge as obtaining it to begin with. Any medical practice exposes you to lawsuits and formal complaints, but this is particularly so with occupational therapy, which deals with helping others overcome existing medical conditions and disabilities.
The California Board of Occupational Therapy is all too quick to investigate any and all complaints registered against you, whether or not they have any merit. In fact, the board's very reason for existing is to protect the general public by restricting licensing and penalizing allegedly unsafe or unprofessional conduct. At California License Attorney, we are here to fight "in your corner," to ensure you are treated fairly and to protect your license and your livelihood.
To learn more or for a free legal consultation, call us anytime 24/7 at 888-959-0068. We will do everything legally possible to preserve your license and to defeat or minimize any potential disciplinary actions of the Board of Occupational Therapy.
The Critical Roles of Occupational Therapists
Many Californians suffer from physical or mental impairments that make it difficult to carry on their day to day lives. They struggle to do the things most of us simply take for granted. An occupational therapist or occupational therapy assistant comes along side to help these individuals become more self-reliant and to develop and improve skills for daily living.
Many times, people involved in a tragic accident, victimized during a crime, or who are recovering from a major surgery, will need the assistance of an occupational therapist to fully regain their normal ability to function. Providing help with improving motor skills, cooking and eating, getting dressed in the morning, managing time and money, and more are often involved in occupational therapy.
Your job as an occupational therapist may also involve teaching patients how to use various devices that will help them adjust to a new lifestyle. And occupational therapy assistants often are responsible for keeping accurate records on patients and filing important paperwork to submit to insurers.
In every role they fill, occupational therapists are constantly helping people in very demanding situations. And they are constantly exposing themselves to a possible challenge to their professional license. It is easy, when tasked with so many difficult duties and working under heavy pressure, to make just one mistake. And it is easy for false or exaggerated accusations to be cast at you as well, when anything goes wrong medically. Family and friends of the patient may assume you are guilty simply because you worked so closely with him/her.
At California License Attorney, we understand the valuable roles you fill and the risks you take. We are familiar with the whole spectrum of complaints you may face and know how to built a solid defense against each and every one of them. We also know when and how to negotiate with the board for a reduced penalty when a dismissal cannot be realistically expected.
Disciplinary Guidelines of the California Board of Occupational Therapy
Any alleged violation of the Occupational Therapy Practice Act, the Business and Professions Code, and other California regulations governing your practice can be easily reported to the Board of Occupational Therapy by patients, relatives of patients, or others.
When this happens, the board will first decide if the complaint is seemingly worthy of even investigating. If so, you will receive a notice of investigation and possibly a call or visit from a board-employed investigator. (You should not answer any questions of an investigator until first contacting an experienced license attorney for advice. Otherwise, you could unintentionally incriminate yourself or needlessly limit your possible defense strategies).
The California Board of Occupational Therapy's official disciplinary guidelines are available for viewing online, but here we will summarize for you some of their key points. These guidelines are used by Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who preside over administrative hearings on alleged violations by occupational therapists and their assistants.
In the case of substance abuse and related matters, the guidelines are really strict standards that must be enforced, the only question being if the judge will assign additional discipline beyond what the "guidelines" demand.
In other instances, however, there is much room for a good license defense lawyer to fight for a lesser form of discipline by presenting mitigating factors, when a dismissal cannot be gained.
Here is a list of some of the most common formal accusations that might be at issue during an administrative hearing:
- Practicing without a license. This will complicate your getting a valid license later on, but there are avenues to doing so if you know the "legal landscape."
- Obtaining your occupational therapist license by means of fraud.
- Allowing unlicensed assistants to work under you in roles that require a license.
- Insurance fraud and other forms of fraudulent activity.
- False or misleading advertising techniques.
- Gross negligence, ordinary negligence, or incompetent performance of one's professional duties.
- Keeping false or otherwise faulty patient records.
- Unlawfully changing a physician-ordered prescription.
- Drug/alcohol abuse, especially if done while on the job.
- Dealing in illegal drugs or in prescription drugs illegally.
- Not adhering to proper infection control standards.
- Failing to maintain proper patient confidentiality.
- Having a criminal conviction, be it misdemeanor or felony, that is "substantially related to" your ability to safely continue your practice.
- Sexual abuse or misconduct involving a patient.
- Any form of physical, mental, or financial abuse of a client.
"Major" violations like treating patients while intoxicated, not submitting to a board-ordered clinical diagnostic evaluation, or violating your terms of probation will typically result in an immediate order forcing you to cease your practice during any investigation. More minor allegations, which do not involve an immediate threat to a patient, the public, or the licensee him or her self, may or may not result in immediate board action.
The maximum form of discipline for most violations is for your license to be revoked, meaning canceled indefinitely. We can usually win you a less harsh settlement or hearing ruling, however. Minimums for many offenses are commonly 30 days actual suspension followed by 3 years on license probation. Minimum disciplinary action for some violations, however, may be more or less than this general rule. By enlisting the help of one of our experienced license defense lawyers as early as possible, you can often win a dismissal; and when that is not possible, you can often get closer to the minimum instead of the maximum end of the penalty spectrum.
The Administrative Hearing
We can often win the case or gain a favorable plea offer before there even need be an administrative hearing. In fact, most cases do not even make it that far. But because of our reputation of putting up a strong defense for each and every client we serve, because the other side knows what we can do at the administrative hearing, we often gain concessions and capitulations where other attorneys would not.
Assuming we go to a hearing, the ALJ will hear the evidence presented against you by investigators and in your favor by us. Mitigating and exculpatory evidence will be presented for you, and we will expose any false or weak testimony against you via cross-examination, calling in our own "expert witnesses," and other means.
You need not attend the hearing in most cases, and it is often best if you do not. But there are times when your presence and your personal explanation may be beneficial to your own cause. We have the experience to help you know when to attend and what to say and do if you do attend. Many who try to "go it alone" at an administrative hearing end up getting themselves into deeper trouble and letting a dismissal, probation, or sentence reduction slip through their fingers. We can guide you every step of the way so that none of that will happen.
In rendering his or her decision, the Administrative Law Judge will consider the following:
- The nature and severity of the alleged violation.
- Whether or not any actual harm came to a patient or another person.
- What potential harm might have come or might come in the future if the act were to be repeated.
- Any previous disciplinary actions taken against you by the board.
- Whether you face a single violation or multiple violations currently.
- All aggravating and mitigating factors that could heighten or lessen the penalty.
- Evidence of rehabilitation.
- If you have a criminal record pertinent to your role as an occupational therapist, how long ago the crime occurred, and whether you adhered to your court-ordered probation terms.
- Whether you cooperated with the board during the investigation.
- Whether or not you admit your error and how likely you are, in the estimation of the ALJ, to repeat it.
In the case of drug or alcohol related violations, there are (as mentioned above) strict standard penalties. First, whether or not you truly have a substance abuse problem will be determined by a clinical diagnostic evaluation conducted by a licensed professional with at least 3 years experience. The test will also determine whether you are "a threat to yourself or others" and give a set of recommendations for treatment, rehab, and restrictions on practice during the process. Those who test positive in a drug test must immediately cease practice. But it is possible to get license probation and ultimately continue your career.
If the judge grants you probation instead of a revocation or suspension, you will be able to continue your practice, albeit with certain restrictions and requirements.
Standard probation conditions include: avoiding all criminal arrests/convictions during the probationary period, complying fully with probation reporting, making all required personal appearances before the board, giving notification to your employer or employers of the probation, fulfilling continuing educational courses related to your violation, being under some form of supervision, and notifying the board of any change of address or contact information.
Optional probationary conditions include: taking physical or psychological exams, undergoing psychotherapy, submitting to a clinical diagnostic evaluation, completing a state-approved rehabilitation program, and attending facilitated support group meetings. It is often possible to negotiate for less restrictive probationary terms.
You will also be responsible for "Cost Recovery," meaning paying back the board for the cost of the investigation and of monitoring you during probation. It is possible, under financial hardship, to get up to a year to pay, but failure to make your payments counts as a probation violation.
Also note that if you move out of state or discontinue your practice for a period of time, that will be "tolled" onto your probationary period, effectively extending it.
California License Attorney is well equipped to present your case in the best possible light at the administrative hearing. We frequently win dismissals and lesser forms of discipline that allow our clients to keep their license and continue their practice.
Contact Us Today for Help
At California License Attorney, we are here 24/7/365 ready to take your call for help. We understand how to defend your occupational therapist license against all manner of possible accusations. We have done so successfully in the past for many other California clients, and we can do the same for you.
To speak with an expert license defense attorney in a free, no-obligation initial consultation, call us today at 888-959-0068.