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Lobbyists use National Practitioner Data Bank to provide false sense of security

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If only this statement wasn't drowning in naiveté and establishing a false sense of security, then perhaps Maryland could acknowledge its problems it has with protecting people from sexually exploitative mental health professional and start working on solutions:

“Any type of charging document shall go to the National Practitioner's Database [sic], therefore you cannot hop, um, states.”

Those words were uttered by the lobbyist for the Maryland Psychological Association, Julie Pitcher Worcester, during the House Judiciary Committee hearing for HB 33, Lynette's Law. This law would make it a crime for mental health professionals in the state to sexually exploit their clients, something that is already a crime in 27 other states.

The problem with the above statement is two-fold. First of all, there are numerous holes in the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), and it is estimated that it contains more than 50,000 incomplete records. According to an article published last year by Public Citizen:

“About 50,000 of the OIG (Office of the inspector General) exclusion reports in the data bank may lack sufficient practitioner identifying information to assure that such reports – which bar incompetent and convicted practitioners from participating in federal health care programs – are provided to the 17,000 users of the NPDB (including hospitals, managed care organizations and state licensing boards) when they query the NPDB to conduct background checks, Public Citizen’s report, available at http://www.citizen.org/hrg2132, shows.”

Informed decisions are unable to be made when all the information is not available. Convicted felons from other states have worked in Maryland as mental health professionals and mental health professionals from Maryland that have lost or surrendered their license here in lieu of discipline have moved on to other states to practice there. This is the second part of the problem.

According to the 2011 surrender letter of Dr. Harold Steinitz, a former Maryland psychologist, he gave up his license in Maryland to avoid sexual misconduct charges. From the portrait the lobbyist painted this action should have been recorded in the National Practitioner Data Bank making him unable to state hop and start practicing elsewhere.

There's no way to verify Steinitz's record in the NPDB at this time since there's no transparency and it's not open to the public, but Dr. Steinitz continues to practice around the country. He left Maryland for Colorado where practiced as a psychotherapist and currently he's in Louisiana working for a rehab center as a “life coach”. This is just one example.

It's time to stop ignoring that there's a problem. A three year Maryland task force back in the 1990s recommended almost 15 years ago that sexual exploitation by mental health professionals should be criminalized. The situation continues to worsen as time moves on with cases continuing to mount. Put away the egos and do something to start remedying the problem – and that can be done by passing HB 33, Lynette's Law.

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