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Consumers' Frequently Asked QuestionsThe following information is intended to inform consumers of the procedures for filing a complaint against individuals licensed by the Dental Hygiene Committee of California. Board licensees are those who practice in the following license categories:
- Hygienist in Alternate Practice (HAP)
- Hygienist in Extended Functions (HEF)
If you need information or have a problem with a health plan (HMO), contact the Department of Managed Health Care at 1-800-400-0815.
Who Can/Should File a Complaint?
A complaint should be filed by anyone who believes that a licensee of the Dental Hygiene Committee has engaged in illegal activities which are related to his/her professional responsibilities. This includes substandard dental care rendered by any of the license categories mentioned above.
In addition, if you have evidence which indicates that an unlicensed person is participating in activities for which a license is required, you should report such activity to the Committee.
Complaints involving allegations which are not within the jurisdiction of this Committee may be referred to other agencies or organizations which may be better able to assist the complainant. Complaints not within the authority of the Committee concern: fee/billing disputes, general business practices, and personality conflicts.
How Do I File a Complaint?
All complaints must be in writing. The information contained in your complaint will determine what action the Committee will take. Please provide a statement which describes the nature of your complaint. Include as many specific details as possible as well as any documentary evidence related to your complaint. This may include patient records, photographs, contracts, invoices, and correspondence. It is not necessary to refer to specific sections of the law which you feel have been violated. While anonymous complaints will be reviewed, they may be impossible to pursue without support from the complaintant.
How Are Complaints Processed?
The Committee receives complaints concerning a wide variety of issues and situations. Complaints are reviewed immediately upon receipt. Those complaints containing allegations that would warrant disciplinary action (e.g., sexual abuse, negligence, incompetence, etc.), and can be substantiated, are immediately referred to an investigator. The complainant is notified that the matter is being formally investigated (approximately two-four weeks after complaint is received).
Complaints which may be unlikely causes for any disciplinary action, and which are substantiated, are dealt with through direct mediation and/or referral. Complaints that are clearly nonjurisdictional (i.e., fee disputes, insurance issues) are referred to other agencies or organizations which may be more able to assist the complainant.
If it has been determined that a complaint must be formally investigated, the complainant is advised and can expect to be interviewed by the investigator assigned to the case. This interview will provide the complainant an opportunity to fully discuss the details of the complaint, answer the investigator's questions, and ask any questions regarding the overall process. The investigator may also interview the subject (licensee) of the complaint who will be advised of the nature of the complaint. To ensure that the success of the investigation is not jeopardized in any way, the details of the investigation remain confidential and are not public record.
Once the investigation is completed and the allegations are confirmed, the case may be submitted to the Office of the Attorney General for formal administrative disciplinary action. In signing the Accusation, the Committee's executive officer becomes the complainant. Once the Accusation is filed, it becomes a public document. The licensee may request a hearing to contest the charges. At the hearing, the Committee must demonstrate "by clear and convincing evidence to a reasonable certainty" that the allegations are true. For that reason, it may be necessary for the person who made the original complaint to testify.
In many cases, defense counsel and the Deputy Attorney General representing the Committee may engage in discussions of proposals for stipulated settlements prior to the hearing. Stipulated settlements generally include admission to one or more of the violations alleged and a proposal for appropriate discipline. The Committee encourages negotiated settlements because they eliminate the need for costly administrative hearings. To this end, the Committee has adopted Disciplinary Guidelines which are designed to set forth the Committee's penalty standards. (A copy may be obtained upon written request.)
When a case does go to hearing, the hearing is presided over by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). After the hearing is completed, the ALJ will issue a "Proposed Decision" stating the findings (facts that were proven in the hearing) and offer a recommendation for resolution (i.e., dismissal, revocation, probation). The ALJ utilizes the Committee's Disciplinary Guidelines in formulating a recommendation. The proposed decision is distributed to the Committee members for a vote. If the Committee votes to non-adopt the proposed decision, the hearing transcript is then circulated among Committee members, along with written arguments from the defense counsel and the Committee's counsel, and the Committee issues its own Final Decision. Final Decisions are a matter of public record and are available upon written request.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the time frame involved in the disciplinary process, from the time a complaint is originally received by the Committee until a final decision is rendered, generally takes a minimum of at least two years.
Should Unlicensed Practice be Reported to the Committee?
If you have evidence which indicates that an unlicensed person is participating in activities (Hygienist) for which a license is required, you should definitely report such activity to the Committee. However, you should be aware that as a licensing agency the Committee only has jurisdiction to take disciplinary action against its licensees. In certain circumstances, however, the Committee will investigate allegations of unlicensed practice, and, if sufficient evidence is found, will forward this information to the local District Attorney's Office for criminal prosecution.
Applicants for licensure, interns and trainees may also be engaged in unlicensed practice. In those cases, the Committee will investigate and pursue appropriate administrative action.
If you have further questions regarding the complaint process, please write or call the Dental Hygiene office.
For more information, contact Nancy Gaytan (firstname.lastname@example.org) by email or by phone at 916-263-1978.