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The District government has never met a disgraced professional it didn’t like. The latest to join the seemingly inexhaustible list is psychologist Joan Roberts Field. Until 1998, Field had a private practice in Columbia, Md., in which she counseled individuals struggling with sexual orientation or sexual conduct issues. But on March 13, 1998, the Maryland State Board of Examiners of Psychologists suspended her license for three years, with
the last year stayed. After her suspension, Field was to be placed on two years’ probation and could resume private practice, but
only under certain conditions, according to a consent order signed by Daniel Malone, chairman of the board, a copy of which was obtained by LL.
Yet within two weeks after her suspension in Maryland, Field started working for the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC). Interestingly, she had received her license to practice in the District in July 1997, even though the Maryland State Board had received its complaint against her on March 18, 1997, and begun its hearing on April 2, 1997. Further, in 1999, although her license had by then been suspended in Maryland, D.C. officials renewed Field’s license to practice in the city, ignoring a written notification that Field says was sent by the National Register of Health Providers and Psychologists about her license suspension in Maryland. District officials say Field retains her current license to practice in the city, which expires Dec. 31 of this year, and she remains in “good standing.”
Field’s offenses in Maryland weren’t minor. The board of examiners said she had violated several major ethics principles and codes of conduct. Her documented troubles stem from her handling of a patient who began seeing her in 1986, who was suffering from suicidal depression in connection with attempts to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. Field entered into a barter agreement that allowed the patient, a hairdresser, to work off part of the fees she would charge by providing Field with hairdressing services. But Field never kept accurate records of the value of her services nor the value of the services provided by her patient. According to details contained in the consent order Field signed, she also began to socialize with her patient, “going out for drinks, dinner, and church seminars.” During this same period, the patient said, he became attracted to a female and decided he didn’t want to change his sex.
The consent order also indicates that Field invited her patient to live in her home. The state board alleged that, during this period, Field was overindulging in alcohol; she said she wasn’t. However, she admitted to undergoing “psychotherapy at the same time she was treating her patient and that she was placed on anti-depressants.” Later, she began to attend Alcoholics Anonymous on a “regular basis to deal with what she considered to be the early signs of an alcohol problem.”
Between 1987 and 1991, the board said, Field “pressured the patient” to have the operation done, sending him to her husband, psychologist Peter Field, and writing on the patient’s behalf a letter to Dr. Stanley Biber, a surgeon in Colorado, enclosing $500 as a down payment for the procedure. Later, Field wrote to her patient’s parents, asking them to lend him the balance needed for the surgery. Finally, in early 1991, the patient had the operation. But eight days later, he left the hospital against medical advice. He was picked up at the airport by Field’s husband and remained in the Fields’ home until spring 1991, according to the consent order.
The board charged that Field had recommended the surgery at a time when she was “mentally and professionally impaired and that she committed numerous boundary violations.” It found that she had violated the Code of Ethics Principles in that she had failed to “promote the patient’s welfare.” She had also violated laws and standards when she made the recommendation for a “drastic, life-altering surgery on a patient when her clinical relationship with the patient was stale.”
On March 13, 1998, the majority of the board orderedwith Field’s consentthat her license be suspended. The board also ordered that Field continue her own therapy, that she continue attending AA sessions, that she complete an approved graduate-level ethics course, and that, while on probation, she practice under the auspices of a board-approved mentor required to submit quarterly reports on her progress. According to Joe Compton, executive director of the Maryland State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, Field began her probation last October, and it does not end until 2002.
Reached at her home in Arlington earlier this week, Field said that the only reason she had signed the consent order was that she didn’t have the money to fight the charges. “The punishment was excessive,” she says.
The more relevant question is how Field got her psychologist’s license in the District in the first place, when the standard industry practice is that a professional whose license has been suspended or revoked in one state is almost never issued one in another jurisdiction. How was she hired to provide psychological counseling to District inmates?
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Ask DOC officials that question and they start scratching their heads. Speaking on behalf of DOC director Odie Washington, spokesperson Darryl Madden says Field “was the only eligible candidate, and she had a valid D.C. license.” He says that during the license-screening process, the applicant usually is asked if he or she has a suspended or revoked license. “I can only tell you, she received her [D.C.] license.”
The District uses Assessment Systems Inc., a Landover, Md., company, to conduct the initial screening of applications, but the D.C. Board of Psychology gives final approval. When Field first received her license, on July 22, 1997, the board was under the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). The board approved the issuance, even though the complaint that led to the subsequent Maryland suspension already was pending before that state.
Then, in 1999, Field’s license in the District was renewed, although a year earlier Maryland had issued its suspensionwhich should have triggered adverse action by the District’s psychology board. Instead, Field kept her license and her $72,000-per-year job.
Field says don’t blame her. “I called the District board” after the Maryland suspension, she says. “Also, accidentally, I renewed my membership to the National Register [of Health Providers and Psychologists]. I immediately called [the register] when I realized my mistake and someone thereJudith Hallwrote to everyone and told them.” In the District, being listed by the register is one of the requirements for getting a license; a suspended license prohibits someone from becoming a member and thus would affect that person’s ability to receive a license in many states.
Field says that, after the letter from the National Register went out, she expected someone from the District to call her. But she never received a call. Nor did she herself make one. “I was not trying to defraud anyone,” she says.
DCRA officials don’t seem to know what they know about this case. Several calls to DCRA spokesperson Gina Douglas yielded several different answers. First, LL was told that the DCRA did not handle the licensing of psychologists. Douglas referred LL to the Department of Health. Wait a minute, said a Department of Health spokesperson, who referred LL back to Clifford Cooks, who heads the occupational and professional licensing division at the DCRA. Cooks provided information about Field’s initial license in the District. But when LL asked Douglas to review Field’s file, she was sent back to the Health Department. LL learned from Dr. Robert Vowels, executive director of health-care licensing for the Health Department, that the DCRA does indeed have the Field file and that only within the last couple of months did his division begin licensing professionals. He also said that both the initial licensing and renewal for Field were handled by the DCRA.
After passing along this information to Douglas, LL was first told that the files had been archived. Later, Cooks and Douglas said that Field’s initial application had been approved because her suspension in Maryland had not yet occurred. But how had the District renewed her license little more than a year after her 1998 suspension? Cooks said, “We put the burden on the individual” to provide licensing authorities with accurate information. How reassuring.
Field, who in late January of this year submitted her resignation effective March 2, says that all these issues surrounding her District license should have come up earlier, not now, when she is about to resume private practice. “This is really tragic,” she says.
LL’s heart bleeds not for Field, but for inmates and District residents who can’t trust the city’s licensing and certification process to protect them from professionals with questionable backgrounds. The Field story once again highlights how little reform really has occurred under the administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams. It also might illuminate the reason that the city, concerned about avoiding all kinds of potential liabilities, recently hired a risk manager. Everyone is at risk.
STATE OF THE DISTRICT?
This week, when Williams, following the lame tradition established by former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr., gives his State of the District address to an audience of city workers, political wannabes, government teat-suckers, and the media, LL will be listening to see how many of these items he mentions:
•Crater-deep pothole on New York Avenue NE; other, equally dangerous pits found in roadways throughout the city.
•Fifty percent of the District’s high school teachers termed weak or incompetent in their primary subject areas by the chair of the
D.C. Board of Educationeven after an unprecedented increase in the school system’s budget and a major reorganization of its governance structure.
•Homicide closure rate of 36 percent for last year, proving that people are still getting away with murder in the nation’s capital.
•Only public hospital for the poor closing as a result of mismanagement and overspending; city must now fork over more than $400 million in the next five years to finance overhaul of the health-care system.
•Homeowners facing huge property-tax increases as the city prepares to shift from triennial property assessments to annual assessments, reviving, in part, some of the accounting gimmicks and financial misrepresentations that were well-known during former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly’s administration.
•Emergency Medical Service (EMS) technicians, unable to discern Northeast from Northwest, arrive too late at the scene of a stabbing and the victim dies, leaving the fire chief to scratch his head and mumble something about damn coincidences. (The late arrival completely baffles LL, because recent news reports indicate that fire department and EMS vehicles have received 241 citations over slightly more than a year for running red lightswhich must mean that, even if they were going the wrong way, they were at least getting there fast.)
•jSeveral city agencies and boards, including the DCRA and the Department of Recreation, lacking permanent directors and members.
•jExecutive branch embroiled in ethics scandal involving political fundraising by Williams administration officials.
•jNeighborhood development stalled while general deterioration of important historical sites such as Howard Theatre, Langston Terrace, and Carter G. Woodson house continues unimpeded by any cohesive or aggressive plan from the government.
State of the District? Messed up! Jonetta Rose Barras
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