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Therapists accused of sexual misconduct allowed to see patients, state audit finds

The state board that licenses professional counselors and therapists took up to a year to tell the Maryland attorney general's office about cases of sexual misconduct and practicing without a license, a state audit released last week found. The delayed notifications allowed the violators to continue seeing patients.

The Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists investigates complaints but must submit its findings to the attorney general before it can mete out punishment, including revoking or temporarily suspending a professional license, putting a practitioner on probation.

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In two cases of sexual misconduct and two cases of therapists operating without a license, the board completed investigations but did not submit recommendations to the attorney's general office for six months to a year.

The auditors looked at complaints made between January 2014 and June 2016 related to some of the 7,888 active licensees under the board's oversight.

It took the state board up to two years to report other complaints for lesser offenses, such as unprofessional conduct, the audit found.

"Adequate tracking and timely resolution of complaints is critical since licensed individuals continue to practice until the [attorney general] takes action," the report said.

The board recently hired an interim executive director who will work with the chairperson to resolve issues brought up in the report, according to a statement from the Maryland Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, which oversees the board.

The board told the auditors that its members were not aware of the delays because they did not regularly monitor the cases. It also cited staffing issues and a shortage of digital storage media, such as compact discs, to transfer the complaints to the attorney general.

The findings were included in an audit that cited several regulatory boards under the jurisdiction of the state health department.

The Office of Health Care Quality was cited for failing to conduct annual inspections of assisted-living facilities and facilities for the developmentally disabled. At the time of the investigation in 2015, 21 percent of assisted-living facilities and 65 percent of those for the developmentally disabled had not been inspected. The audit noted this was an improvement from the previous year but still not in compliance with state law.

The health department said in a statement that although the Office of Health Care Quality has made progress, the number of providers that must be inspected has grown rapidly. Since the 2014 fiscal year, the office has seen a 25 percent increase in the number of providers it needs to survey, certify and license.

The office has been given permission to fill all of its vacant positions, which it hopes will help with the backlog. As of last month, 124 of the 127 surveyor positions were filled.

The audit also found that the Board of Nursing did not always suspend the licenses of nurses who had not paid child support. From July 2013 to November 2015, the Child Support Enforcement Administration informed the board of about 236 parents who had not paid.

In April 2016, 88 delinquent parents had not received written notices from the Board of Nursing that their licenses had been suspended one to five months after the board was notified by the child support enforcement administration.

The nursing board hired a full time employee in February who is dedicated to processing the suspension of licenses, the health department said in a statement.

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