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An Introduction to the Disciplinary Process of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services

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By Attorney Arthur Thexton, Of Counsel

Part 1: What is the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services?

DSPS-LOGO-125-100dpiDo you have an occupational or professional license in Wisconsin, or do you have a client who does? Have you received a letter stating that a complaint has been made about you, and requesting a response? In this series of blogs, I will explain how the Department handles complaints, and perhaps offer some insight (aside from promptly contacting an attorney to discuss your case). I spent 24 years as a prosecutor in the Department, handling cases for almost every profession and occupation.

By way of introduction, the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (formerly Regulation and Licensing) serves (among others) two closely related functions: (1) it directly licenses and regulates certain professionals and professions, and (2) it provides administrative services and staff to boards which themselves license and regulate certain professionals and professions. For example, the Department directly licenses and disciplines private detectives and private detective agencies, acupuncturists, and security guards. The Department provides administrative services and staff to (for example) the Medical Examining Board, which itself licenses and disciplines physicians (both medical and osteopathic), physician assistants, and others. [The Department also handles the regulatory and inspection functions formerly handled by the Department of Commerce, which relate mostly to building and petroleum safety, including licensing individuals and approving plans: these functions are beyond the scope of this blog.] The Department has about 380 staff, is headed by a cabinet-level Secretary who serves at the pleasure of the governor, and is located in the Washington Square Building, 1400 East Washington Avenue, Madison. The Department has field offices for its duties relating to building and petroleum safety.

It is important to note that the Department does not handle all regulated occupations. For example, lawyers are regulated by the Supreme Court, teachers by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, insurance agents by the Commissioner of Insurance, and well drillers by the Department of Natural Resources. Nursing Home Administrators and nurses have licensing boards attached to Safety and Professional Services, but nursing homes as facilities, and nursing assistants, are regulated by the Department of Health Services. For a complete list of the occupations and entities currently regulated by the Department and its attached boards at any particular time, see chs. 440-59 and 480, Wis. Stats., and do not forget to check the session laws. The Department currently (at the end of 2010) has almost 363,000 active licenses issued (some people and entities hold more than one), The population of Waukesha County, by contrast, is 361,000. The most numerous of the active licensees are nurses (101,000 RN's and LPN's), barber/cosmetologists (39,000), and real estate brokers and salespersons (27,000). There are about 24,000 physicians licensed, of whom just over 16,000 have Wisconsin addresses.

Wis. Stats. chs. 440-459 contain references to a multitude of licenses, permits, registrations, and certificates which are issued. For example, physicians must have both licenses and registrations, while respiratory care therapists get certificates. In 1992, the Department began referring to all such authority-granting documents as "credentials" and to the holders of such authority as "credentialees." The verb "to credential" has followed. In the interests of simplicity, “license” will be used here to refer to all such credentials.

Licensing and discipline of individuals engaged in functions overseen by the former Department of Commerce are also beyond the scope of this blog. These include the building trades, contractors, and a variety of others involved construction and related activities. As of October 3, 2011, there were some 86,046 credentials in 70 categories for 75,379 individuals issued in these categories.

In this upcoming series, I plan to take you through the operations of the Department and its intake process. I plan to provide some background as to what role the professional “case advisor” plays in case screening, as well as how a case investigation proceeds prior to the complaint is filed, and then, how the case is prosecuted once a complaint is filed. I will take you through the administrative hearing process and describe what one can expect. Finally, I will provide some conclusory comments.

Next time, we will see how the Department operates on a day-to-day basis, when complaints are received.

If you ever find yourself or your business as the subject of a Department investigation or complaint, feel contact me or another experienced attorney here at Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP.

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