By: Jennifer Kirschenbaum, Esq.
All physicians are aware that their professional conduct is under a high level of scrutiny, especially in our litigious society and the unwarranted amount of medical malpractice lawsuits commenced each year in New York. However, many practitioners are not aware that the government takes a particular interest in not just their professional activities, but their personal activities as well.
The Office of Professional Medical Conduct, the investigatory and enforcement arm of the New York Department of Health, monitors and investigates a wide array of activities to determine whether healthcare professionals licensed in New York are appropriately protecting the welfare of their patient populations. OPMC's task of protecting the public is not limited to only the professional lives of health practitioners. In fact, OPMC is required to investigate any complaint that is made to its office about a healthcare professional, regardless of the nature of the complaint. In addition to investigating complaints made directly to OPMC, OPMC may initiate its own investigation of practitioners who have exhibited questionable professional conduct, whether such conduct is exhibited in the practitioner’s professional or personal life. As OPMC is tasked with protecting the public from harm and investigating and taking action against any healthcare professional who may put the public at risk of harm, anything is fair game.
OPMC is authorized to issue a private or public censure or reprimand, suspension or license revocation, as well as ordering monitoring for practitioners suffering from chemical dependence, as well as other penalties for misconduct. OPMC frequently renders disciplinary charges against practitioners where: (1) a practitioner has a substance abuse problem, (2) conduct in another state would constitute misconduct in New York, or (3) OPMC being alerted of activity that is of a nature not becoming of a healthcare professional (for instance, doctor absconds his children for a weekend from his ex-wife against a court order).
Recently, a determination rendered by OPMC suspended a physician’s license because of a final order in the State of Florida that found the physician to be a habitual abuser of alcohol and drugs. The physician’s license was suspended indefinitely in Florida, he was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service, required to pay a $10,000 fine and $2,720 in costs. When OPMC caught wind of Florida’s determination, New York took “mirror image” action and suspended the physician’s license indefinitely as well.
An example of OPMC involving themselves in a non-medical matter and making a determination against a practitioner are the recent charges rendered against a practitioner who was found guilty in 2004 in Pennsylvania of his willful failure to pay income taxes. This physician already suffered through 1 month imprisonment, 1 year supervised release upon release from imprisonment, a $30,000 fine and an assessment to the IRS of $500,000 to be applied to his outstanding tax balance of approximately $5,172,257. As the physician is licensed to practice medicine in the State of New York, and the physician’s criminal activity constitutes a crime in New York, OPMC reviewed the physician’s case and determined that a public censure and reprimand was warranted and assessed an additional fine of $5,000 to be paid to the New York State Department of Health.
Another recent determination by OPMC related to the operation of a medical practice resulted in the loss of monies to the entire practice when a PC did not remove a physician as an owner whose license to practice medicine was revoked. The penalty determined by OPMC was that the PC’s entire existence was determined invalid and the PC was disallowed from collecting any uncollected account receivables. The entire medical practice suffered financial ramifications due to the PC’s failure to adjust their corporate documentation and structure.
Notably, practitioners should be aware that OPMC oftentimes does get involved when a malpractice action is determined for a large sum of money or a practitioner has multiple claims of negligence against them. Sometimes OPMC catches wind of such matters from reviewing the National Practitioner Databank. Should you receive a letter from OPMC related to a malpractice action, do not ignore the letter. OPMC has the authority to take away your livelihood and any interest OPMC takes in a practitioner’s professional or personal activities must be taken very seriously.
Should you have any questions about OPMC or need to speak to a healthcare attorney please do not hesitate to contact Jennifer Kirschenbaum at (516) 747-6700 x. 302 or Jennifer@Kirschenbaumesq.com.