The Department of Consumer Affairs, or DCA, is a California state government department that is the umbrella organization over almost all California state licensing agencies, from the Medical Board of California to the California Board of Accountancy. If a California licensing agency receives a complaint or notice of alleged unprofessional conduct alleged to have been committed by a licensee, those investigations are often referred to the Department of Consumer Affairs Division of Investigation, also know as DOI. Investigation subjects can include medical malpractice, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, employer or co-worker complaints, complaints from patients and clients, felony and misdemeanor convictions, and other misconduct issues.
Health Quality Investigation Unit
The Department of Consumer Affairs consists of four internal divisions, or units, two of which investigate California professional licensees and licensed businesses. The Health Quality Investigation Unit, or HQIU, carries out investigations for the Medical Board of California, the Physician Assistant Board and the Board of Podiatric Medicine. Until 2014, California Medical Board, Physician Assistant Board and Podiatric Medicine Board cases were carried out investigators directly hired by the Medical Board of California, however, they were reassigned under the DCA DOI.
HQIU has 13 field offices throughout California, including Division of Investigation offices in Cerritos, Fresno, Rancho Cucamonga, Sacramento, San Dimas, Tustin and Valencia. Medical doctors and physician assistants can sometimes be confused when an investigation letter, medical records request or phone call comes from the Department of Consumer Affairs Division of Investigation, Health Quality Investigation Unit, because the Medical Board is not the named agency. However, the Medical Board of California, Physicians Assistant Board and Board of Podiatric Medicine are all boards under the Department of Consumer Affairs. The Division of Investigation, therefore, is a component of the same agency.
Investigation and Enforcement Unit
Another important division of the Department of Consumer Affairs Division of Investigation is the Investigation and Enforcement Unit, or IEU. The IEU investigates cases for agencies such as the Board of Accountancy, the Osteopathic Medical Board, the Board of Pharmacy, the Physical Therapy Board, the Board of Psychology, the Board of Registered Nursing (BRN), the Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists, the Respiratory Care Board, the Speech-Language Pathology Board and the Veterinary Medical Board, among others. IEU also carries out investigations for bureaus, committees, and commissions such as the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, the Bureau of Real Estate Appraisers and the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services.
The DCA Investigation and Enforcement Unit has eight offices, including Chatsworth, Hayward, Lakewood, Ontario and San Diego. DCA IEU also has a Cannabis Enforcement Unit based in Sacramento. Many of these agencies, such as BRN, have their own in-house investigators (who generally investigate less serious matters). In-house investigators may be based at the agency offices or in the field (in the case or the Board of Registered Nursing). DCA DOI investigators are typically sworn peace officers (the same as police) with the power to arrest, execute warrants and may be able to testify to hearsay in preliminary hearings. Other agency investigators and analysts are typically not sworn peace officers, and subsequently, they usually investigate less serious license discipline matters.
Holders of California professional and occupation licenses, and owners of California licensed businesses, should hire an attorney before responding to, speaking with, writing to, being interviewed by or signing a document for a Department of Consumer Affairs Division of Investigation investigator. An investigation by a DCA DOI investigator can lead to serious license discipline, license revocation, or even criminal prosecution. However, appropriately approached, an investigation can become an opportunity to clear up misunderstandings or present contrary evidence or a different perspective. Effective and skilled representation can lead to a closure of the investigation and an end to the matter without license discipline, such as an accusation, or other adverse outcome.