How to Prepare for An OPMC Hearing to Have Your Medical License Restored After Surrendering it Due to a Substance Abuse Issue

We often represent physicians who have temporarily surrendered their New York State medical license due to a drug addiction issue. This almost always comes about when the doctor is discovered abusing drugs by his/her hospital. Often, a fellow employee notices that the doctor is “just not right,” and that leads to an immediate meeting with the administration, a mandatory toxic screen, and a report to the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC). Sometimes, the doctor is actually caught on the hospital’s video system stealing drugs, and that ends up in the same situation, that is, the doctor has to temporarily surrender his/her medical license via an OPMC Consent Order.

The doctor then usually enters into a contract with CPH, (Committee for Physician Health), and rehabilitation begins with random urine screens and regular meetings with a counselor and a psychiatrist, with reports sent to CPH on a regular basis. All of this is done to have the physician get off the drugs and hopefully stay off the drugs forever and, then, to attend a Hearing with OPMC to convince a Hearing Panel that the doctor can be trusted to have the license restored. This article is written so that physicians can prepare to present themselves in the best possible light at this Hearing so that they can obtain the best possible result.

To start, you have to understand that OPMC has a long history of dealing with physicians who have a drug addiction and they have to be sincerely convinced that a doctor is going to stay off drugs. There is a large subset of drug users, and doctors are included, that fall back to drug use and, accordingly, OPMC is going to closely monitor those doctors to protect the public–no one wants to be treated by a doctor who is addicted to drugs. In view of this, please note that OPMC will not schedule a Hearing to restore a license until a substantial period of time goes by. In fact, you should expect to be in treatment for over a year before OPMC will consider having the Hearing to restore your license.

One thing that OPMC requires before they will schedule the Hearing is that they receive a letter from CPH stating that CPH will “advocate” for the physician at the Hearing, that is, that CPH is convinced that the doctor has made sufficient progress in his/her recovery that the license, with safeguards, can be reinstated.

As the physician goes about the treatment and monitoring part of the process, CPH will receive periodic reports from the treating counselor and the treating psychiatrist. Ensure you show you are enthusiastic about the therapy that is being given so that the reports that go to CPH are as positive as possible. This will help move your matter ahead on the timeline and will get you to the Hearing as soon as possible. You want to demonstrate that you are in recovery and very happy about being in recovery. It does not help your cause if, during your treatment sessions, you simply focus on being out of work and having no way to earn an income. That will certainly be true, but the focus should be on getting yourself clean and having the determination to stay clean. I think that you should make that the subject of conversation with your treatment providers.

Another positive item is to ensure that you do not miss any appointments with the counselor or the psychiatrist, as those missed appointments are red flags to OPMC and CPH.

When you do finally get a Hearing date, please bear in mind that OPMC will have collected all of your medical records and will study those records to see what you said to other doctors or hospitals over the years. Often, there have been lies told along with contradictory stories from one medical record to another. For instance, if you were terminated by a hospital years ago, what reason did you give for that termination and what reason did the hospital give? Or, were you arrested for, say, drunk driving, and was that part of your addiction and are you lying about it now?

Note that before your Hearing, OPMC will send a complete copy of the documents they have collected about you, and you and your lawyer have to study those documents very carefully so that you are ready to intelligently discuss the facts at the Hearing. You have to be realistic and get your story straight, because the members of the Hearing Panel are going to decide your fate, and you do not want them to think you are lying to them at the Hearing. That could be fatal to your chances.

All in all, you have to really understand the process, should you end up in this situation. You and your lawyer have to anticipate the questions that will be asked at the Hearing and you have to have good answers to those questions, as you do not want to be seen as being evasive. That is never a good position to be in when you are asking for a very large favor.

Assuming that you do have your license restored, please note that there will no doubt be numerous restrictions, at least at the beginning. OPMC will, understandably, want to keep a close eye on your practice and you simply have to live with that situation. I cannot go into every possible restriction, but suffice it to say, you will no doubt have to be monitored in some way for several years after you are permitted to practice again.

The bottom line is that you and your lawyer must understand how this process works so that you have the best opportunity to have your license to practice restored with the fewest possible restrictions.