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"Furlough Fridays" Delay Issuance of Medical Licenses; Administrative Hearings Delayed 180 Days.
Alleged bureaucratic inefficiency and the Governor's insistence that all state agencies furlough their employees three days per month, including licensing boards whose budgets are fully funded from licensing fees, may be causing serious delays in the licensing process that could cost a physician his or her job. A process that should take six months or less may now exceed nine months' duration. The Medical Board of California website states that applications for medical licenses "must be reviewed by staff within 60 working days". The Board even assures applicants that "this often occurs in less time.". Experience, however, shows that this is far from current reality. While the Board's website also counsels applicants to submit their completed applications six to nine months before their anticipated employment in California, the current delays resulting from a combination of inefficient staffing and reduced work days means even applications submitted nine months in advance may have little chance of timely approval. In a recent case, an east coast physician submitted his application in December of 2008. He had been offered a fellowship at a renowned teaching hospital here, beginning July 1, 2009. His application file remained unopened at the Medical Board until June of 2009, (far longer than the 60 days or less cited by the Board). Staff contacted the applicant in June to advise that more documentation was needed. He provided the requested documents by certified mail by the end of June. By August his application still remained in a pile of unprocessed files, despite his submissions. He succeeded in getting an extension of time from his California employer to the end of August. By August 21rst it was becoming apparent he would not meet the new deadline. Ironically this realization occurred on another "Furlough Friday" so it was not possible for him to speak with anyone at the Medical Board. Instead, he contacted the offices of Slote & Links for help. Through contacts in the Attorney General's Office and the Medical Board, it was determined that the Board indeed had all of the necessary documentation by the end of June and that the applicant was fully qualified for his Medical License. With some effort, his application was expedited and the employer agreed to a short extension to allow for processing. It nearly did not happen. The opportunity was nearly lost, with substantial cost to the applicant who was relocating his family from coast to coast. A candid conversation with one of the attorneys working with the Medical Board revealed that staff's licensing delays have become a significant issue, and one that has not gone unnoticed by Medical Board members appointed by the Governor. The members of the Medical Board are fully cognizant of the Governor's recent shake up over at the Board of Registered Nursing, where he engaged in nearly wholesale replacement of Board members and staff due to delays in processing complaints (and, presumably, licensing matters). Appointed board members don't like to be threatened with removal because of staff inefficiency. Furlough Fridays may be responsible for some of the delays, since, after all, staff have lost three days per month of productive work time. It is notable, however, that the Medical Board's Enforcement Division has reportedly not suffered the same delays as their licensing colleagues. This may be due to the scrutiny Medical Board investigations have received from the press and the State Legislature in recent years, resulting in greater efforts by Board staff to move cases along. Whatever the reason, enforcement cases appear to be largely on track. Licensing applications, however, are another matter entirely. The prudent physician applicant or resident seeking his or her California medical license would do well to submit their completed application well in advance of the six to nine months prior to employment the Board's website recommends. In addition, applicants should read the documentation requirements carefully to ensure their application packet is complete. Items such as verification of training program completion or explanations of prior criminal convictions such as DUI cases or reckless driving may cause significant delays. The required criminal background check is dependent on FBI fingerprint clearance, which may also take time. In general, it may be helpful to have an experienced California licensing attorney review an application prior to submission for its completeness, as well as to allow plenty of time. This can save the applicant time, headaches, and stress, and avoid lost employment opportunities. Another fact to take note of as you wind your way through either the applicantion process or a disciplinary matter with the Medical Board. . .the Office of Administrative Hearings which schedules hearings on denied licensing applications as well as accusations against licensed physicians is currently experiencing delays of ninety days or more. This means that the ninety days specified for setting hearings on Statements of Issues for licensing matters, according to Bus. & Prof. Code Section 487, may now take six months or longer. The same may be presumed true for disciplinary hearings on accusations.