The Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists (LSBEP) will make changes to their disciplinary policies and procedures, including promulgating new rules and regulations if needed, the Board members announced at their recent Long-Range Planning meeting. The meeting was held November 30 at the Board’s new offices located at 4334 S. Sherwood Forest Blvd., in Baton Rouge.
The new disciplinary procedures are the result of study by a task team, which has been meeting over the past months in confidential discussions to craft these new procedures. Members of the task team are LSBEP Chair, Dr. Jesse Lambert, current LSBEP Executive Director, Ms. Jaime Monic, board attorney for complaints issues, Ms. Courtney Newton, and Louisiana Psychological Association Chair of Professional Affairs, Dr. Kim Van Geffen.
At the November 30 public meeting, Ms. Newton explained to members and attendees about the changes. She said that it was essential for a bifurcated and completely separate process to exist between the investigative element and the hearing element of a disciplinary action, and that the task team worked to create a two-pronged process with a firewall between the two elements.
One of the changes that is being proposed is that whenever a complaint is received and needs to be investigated, a Complaints Committee will be formed. This committee will include the LSBEP attorney, the Board Investigator, who is a private investigator, and a Complaints Coordinator.
In July this year the Board added contracts so that there would be three psychologists available as Complaints Coordinators. The contracts were for Sasha Lambert, PhD (Complaints Coordinator I), Erin Skaff Vandenweghe, PsyD (Complaints Coordinator II), and Mark Vigen, PhD (Complaints Coordinator III). The Board also confirmed Statewide Surveillance as the source for services for Licensed Investigators, in July.
The new complaints process will also include a board member, who is to be part of the investigation process. If the complaint goes to a hearing, the Board member who sits on the Complaints Committee will recuse themselves from the hearing panel.
Previously, the Board had held that no board member could be involved because of the fact that a vote of four of five board members was required for disciplinary actions.
Another of the elements included in the renewed approach is the “Letter of Education.” This has been used before and addresses actions that do not rise to the level of a violation and so are not subject to open records or reporting. This allows the board to recommend further education and avoid a licensee being reported.
The new procedures also allow for confidential process when those with substance abuse problems may be referred for colleague assistance programs, also without always being reported.
The psychology Board is currently involved in litigation involving its complaints procedures and this required closed meetings of the task team during the past year, according to sources.
In February 2017 a psychologist appealed a decision made by the LSBEP. The Judge in the 19th Judicial District Court, Judge Michael Caldwell, vacated the board’s decision, saying that the process “reeked” with due process violations, according to sources.
Next, the LSBEP appealed Caldwell’s decision on two of the issues: 1) That the board’s attorneys were law partners; and 2) the Board’s prosecuting attorney had previously been involved in the psychologist’s child custody case.
The LSBEP won the appeal and now the remaining issues are back in Judge Caldwell’s court.
In another issue, this one regarding time-limits, the Board appears to have confused different requirements during hearings in 2015. One case appears to still be on appeal due to this issue.
State boards have come under the notice of the Louisiana Legislature for process issues and several laws have been passed to address citizens’ complaints. In particular, the state medical board has been in front of the Legislature with citizen’s associations’ complaining about heavy-handed treatments at the board. Louisiana’s board actions increased over the last ten years without a similar increase in lawsuits. (See graph).
Senator Fred Mills advanced several measures and this year passed Act 515, moving boards under the Department of Health, because of what he termed, “…virtually no oversight” at the boards. Act 655 allows citizens to make complaints to the the Legislature committees.
[Editor’s Note: For additional information, see: “The Secret Life of Board Complaints,” in Psychology Times, Vol 6, Nos 10 and 12; “Board May Have Botched Time Limits,” Vol 6 No 10; “Judge Says Psych Board Procedures Unconstitutional,” in Vol.8, No 6; and Appeals Court Reverses Judge Caldwell’s “Reeks” Decision in Cerwonka– LSBEP Dispute,” in Vol 9, No 5.]