Who can file a complaint with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA)?

In Michigan, anyone can file a complaint with LARA against a nurse, physician, mental healthcare provider, or most other licensed professionals.  The complaint describes an alleged violation of the law or standard of care regarding a patient.  The complaint must contain factual information and be filed in writing.

How does LARA respond to a filed complaint?

LARA will assign an investigator to investigate the allegations documented in the complaint.  Normally the investigator will obtain relevant documents and will contact the professional who is the subject of the complaint and other witnesses and will request interviews.  In some instances, the investigator will initiate the contact by telephone and might begin to ask questions during the initial conversation.  If LARA determines based on the documentation and interviews that a violation has not occurred, then LARA will end the investigation and close the file.  If the file is closed, then the investigation (and the information and documents generated as a result) will remain confidential and not accessible to the general public.

By contrast, if LARA believes there might have been a violation of law or the standard of care, then LARA will often proceed to retain an expert witness to review the information and documents generated by the investigation.  LARA may consider the expert’s opinion in deciding whether or not to proceed with an administrative complaint.  An administrative complaint is a formal complaint against a healthcare provider or practitioner which is filed when LARA believes that there has been a violation of law or of the applicable standard of care.

Why should I retain an attorney to assist with a LARA licensing investigation?

If you are contacted by a LARA investigator about a complaint, then you should take the situation very seriously and be sure to consult with an attorney who has expertise in licensing cases before you talk with the investigator.  If a healthcare provider or other professional asks the LARA investigator for additional time to contact an attorney, then the LARA investigator will normally accommodate the request.  Often healthcare providers will underestimate the level of risk and/or the potential severity of the consequences that can result from talking to the investigator without representation.  Healthcare providers sometimes will meet with the investigator without legal counsel, hoping that their cooperative efforts will save time or help to remove suspicion.  However, what often happens is that healthcare providers volunteer information, some of which may be used against them later in a formal administrative complaint.

Further, retaining a licensing defense attorney at the investigation stage (before talking with the investigator) provides the healthcare provider with a tremendous opportunity to improve his/her outcome.  The attorney can facilitate communications with the investigator, as well as the individuals from LARA and the state board which oversees the professional.  An experienced attorney will help to defend the care that was provided and to show compliance with the applicable standard of care, and consequently that there is no need for LARA to have the case reviewed by an expert and/or no basis to proceed with filing an administrative complaint.

LARA investigators often do not have a medical background and/or have not worked as healthcare providers.  The investigator may not understand the complexities of how the healthcare system is arranged and/or the way that healthcare is typically delivered in the particular setting in question.  Having an experienced licensing defense attorney involved at the LARA investigation stage, can help to identify situations that the investigator may not understand including the underlying medical issues.  Also, experienced legal counsel can facilitate communications to clarify any misunderstandings that may develop and advocate objectively to present the healthcare provider in the most favorable light.

If you are a healthcare provider that is contacted by a LARA investigator for an interview as a witness, relating to a complaint filed against another professional, then you should proceed with caution.  LARA has the ability to expand the scope of its investigation and/or to focus on healthcare providers beyond the individual against whom the initial complaint was filed.  For example, if the care that you provided was closely related to the care provided by the healthcare provider under investigation, then many of the issues of concern may also relate to you.  In this situation, you may be at risk of LARA filing an administrative complaint against you, instead of, or in addition to, the healthcare provider who initially was the focus of the LARA investigation.

In addition, often there are professional sensitivities that exist between various healthcare providers, and those sensitivities often get lost or overlooked by a LARA investigator.  Having an attorney who is experienced with licensing cases can help to make sure that such sensitivities are properly recognized and observed in the investigation process.

If you have additional questions regarding LARA licensing investigations or are a healthcare provider recently contacted by a LARA investigator, please contact Douglas Vanden Berge at 616.233.5127 or dpvanden@rhoadesmckee.com.

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