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Dos and don'ts of internal investigations for healthcare organizations

Daphne Pierre Bishop (dbishop@cdflaborlaw.com) is Partner at the Los Angeles office of Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger LLP.

In December 2017, a nurse practitioner reported that she smelled alcohol on a physician’s breath during work. The physician was questioned about the incident and placed on an administrative leave pending an evaluation for alcohol abuse through the state medical association. The physician was subsequently diagnosed with alcohol use disorder, completed a treatment program, and returned to work subject to a mandatory five-year monitoring program.[1]

The healthcare organization’s response seems reasonable, right? An Indiana jury disagreed and awarded $4.75 million to the physician in her ensuing lawsuit against a St. Vincent hospital and medical practice for defamation, tortious interference with an employment relationship, and related claims in January 2020.[2]

A postmortem of publicly available information about the investigation that started this chain of events can help all healthcare organizations understand how to identify and avoid potential compliance issues related to internal investigations.

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