Category Archives: sexual misconduct

Psychiatrist Curtis Steele loses license over teen nude photo allegations

A former psychiatrist who practised in Halifax and taught at Dalhousie University will never practise over allegations that he took nude photos of a teenage patient.

Curtis Steele agreed to give up his licence after an investigation by the province’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Steele practised in the province from his move to Nova Scotia in 1988 until 2013. In 2013, one of his former patients filed a complaint against him with the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The patient was 14 years old when she started seeing Steele in 2003. The decision from the college says one of the girl’s parents worked with Steele and considered him a friend.

A committee that investigated the complaint found a number of concerns about Steele’s behaviour, including Steele allegedly taking nude photographs of his 14-year-old patient, as well as prescribing the drug Paxil without a supporting diagnosis.

“Dr. Steele lacked the necessary insight expected of a psychiatrist in failing to immediately recognize the impropriety of taking the photographs,” the college ruling says.

“The allegations are serious and profoundly disturbing.” – Dr. Gus Grant, College of Physicians and Surgeons

Steele has agreed to the terms of the college’s settlement to stop practising medicine and never apply for a licence again.

He will also have to pay $5,000 to help cover the college’s costs of the investigation. Steele admitted to professional misconduct, but not necessarily the facts outlined in the agreement.

The college released its decision Wednesday morning.

“I can’t imagine complaints of a more serious nature,” said Dr. Gus Grant, the registrar and CEO of the college. “The allegations are serious and profoundly disturbing.”

Grant says the incident could lead to charges.

“The nature of the allegations that the college considered are serious and potentially will involve the criminal court system,” he said.
Two more complaints outstanding

Meanwhile, Steele still faces two complaints from former patients, including another case filed by the patient who was 14 years old when he treated her in 2003.

A second case, filed last year, alleges Steele made inappropriate sexual advances toward a male patient using a dildo.

Steele practised at the Community Mental Health Clinic at the Capital District Health Authority, as well as at a small private practice.

Steele was also a faculty member at Dalhousie University’s Department of Psychiatry, but retired in 2013. He hadn’t taught medical students in over a decade, says Dalhousie spokeswoman Allison Gerrard.

Source: “Curtis Steele loses psychiatry licence over nude photo allegations,” CBC News, July 16, 2014.

Advertisements

Prison psychologist engaged in affair with “sexy” convicted murderer

SHE thought he was “sexy” and wanted to be with him forever. The only problem was she was his psychologist and he was a convicted murderer.

Bobbie Bergmeier met the inmate — who can be referred to only as Client A — after she began working as a psychologist at Junee Correctional Centre in the NSW Riverina region in April 2010.

At the time, Client A was serving the final years of his 21-year sentence for murder and malicious wounding.

The Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) alleges Ms Bergmeier began having intimate telephone conversations with him, declaring “she loved him and couldn’t wait to be with him” and “he was sexy and she wanted him forever”.

She resigned from the prison job in August 2011 but continued to stay in contact with him, visiting his family and friends, and applying to be his sponsor for weekend leave.

Client A was serving the final years of a 21 year sentence for murder and malicious wound

In a bid to cover up her relationship, Ms Bergmeier also used a colleague’s password to log into Client A’s case notes and change them to create “distance” between herself and him, the HCCC alleged.

In a judgment handed down on Wednesday, the Civil and Administrative Tribunal NSW found her guilty of professional misconduct, saying she “has been involved in a serious boundary violation and placed her client at risk”.

Although Client A was serving time for murder, the tribunal said he had been in jail all of his adult life with little opportunity to explore relationships.

He was “needy and dependent and psychologically vulnerable”, it heard.

Asked why she didn’t end the relationship when the stakes were so high, Ms Bergmeier told the tribunal her feelings were “so strong” that she didn’t think to.

The relationship started in prison but Client A and Ms Bergmeier are believed to still be

The relationship started in prison but Client A and Ms Bergmeier are believed to still be seeing each other. Picture:

Ms Bergmeier said she accepted responsibility for her actions and acknowledged that what she did was wrong.

She understood her conduct had breached her professional code of ethics.

The tribunal cancelled her registration, saying: “Her insight into the seriousness of her conduct and its impact on her client, her colleagues and the profession as a whole remains questionable.” Client A was released on parole in March.

Ms Bergmeier is now enrolled in a degree in primary school teaching at Charles Sturt University.

It is believed the pair are continuing to see each other.

Source: “Prison psychologist Bobbie Bergmeier guilty of misconduct over relationship with murderer inmate,” News.com.au, July 17, 2014.

Study concludes that psychiatrists almost four times as likely to be sanctioned for sexual misconduct

The new analysis of a decade of discipline cases across Canada more than confirmed anecdotal evidence and a previous study that suggested a problem with psychiatry, said Dr. Chaim Bell of Toronto’s Mt. Sinai Hospital, who co-authored the paper.

Psychiatrists are twice as likely as other Canadian doctors to face professional discipline generally and almost four times as apt to be sanctioned for sexual misconduct, concludes a new study that underscores long-held concerns about the speciality.

Experts blame the problem in part on psychiatrists’ unusually close and long relationships with their patients, compared to surgeons and some other specialists who often have relatively brief contact with the people they treat.

Past research has suggested many of the wayward therapists may also be “lovesick,” middle-aged men in isolated practices who fall for younger women, the study notes.

Regardless, the new analysis of a decade of discipline cases across Canada more than confirmed anecdotal evidence and a previous study that suggested a problem with psychiatry, said Dr. Chaim Bell of Toronto’s Mt. Sinai Hospital, who co-authored the paper.

“This is surprising in how consistent it is across the various provinces, how consistent it is in different years, and how consistent it is with penalties and fines,” he said. “It’s also consistent with the sort of sensational, one-type anecdotal coverage you might get…. The [discipline case] that gets the front page is often the psychiatrist.”

Just this month, in fact, at least two psychiatrists have been in the news for sexual-abuse allegations. A London doctor under investigation by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons for allegedly masturbating and inappropriately videotaping female patients was charged by police with sexual assault and voyeurism. In Calgary, meanwhile, a psychiatrist is being tried on charges of sexually assaulting 10 male patients.

Dr. Bell, an internal-medicine specialist, stressed that it is still a small percentage of psychiatrists — about two per thousand — who get in trouble with their regulatory colleges. Given the “catastrophic” effect even rare cases of misconduct can have on patients and the public trust, however, psychiatry must do more to curb wrongdoing, the study’s authors say.

At the same time, the average psychiatrist who faced discipline over the 10-year study period had been practising for more than 30 years, perhaps reflecting a shrinking generation of practitioner, said Dr. Molyn Leszcz, Mt. Sinai’s chief of psychiatry.

Younger psychiatrists have been exposed to training on appropriate boundaries with patients, are more conscientious about their own emotional health and actually do their jobs differently, said Dr. Leszcz, who was not involved in the study. They are more likely to practise with groups of other doctors and spend less time in one-on-one psychotherapy sessions, he said.

“If you sit in your office and experience the kinds of strong feelings that get generated in psychotherapy all the time, in isolation, then it becomes harder to maintain professional perspective,” said Dr. Leszcz.

Still, the results from Dr. Bell’s study are “disappointing” in light of the measures taken to combat sexual abuse, said Dr. Donald Addington, chair of the Canadian Psychiatric Association.

“This kind of report makes us think about ‘What more could be done?’ and at this point, we don’t have a particular new plan or direction,” said the University of Calgary professor.

Dr. Bell said the regulatory colleges in each province do little tracking themselves of trends in discipline, so he and his colleagues developed a database of physicians punished for wrongdoing from 2000 to 2009, a total of just over 600 cases.

Psychiatrists made up 14% of that number, twice their percentage in the medical profession, concluded the study, just published in the journal Plos One. They were 3.62 times more likely than other physicians to be found guilty of sexual abuse of patients, had 2.32 times more chance of being convicted of fraud-related discipline offences, and were three times as apt to be found guilty of unprofessional conduct, the paper said.

Little research has been done on psychiatrists who “violate boundaries” with patients, but one 1989 study suggested a small number are actually psychotic, a somewhat larger group show antisocial or exploitative behaviour, and the largest category are the “lovesick” — typically neurotic, socially isolated middle-aged men who fall for much younger patients.

A 1997 Canadian study that followed a group of new psychiatrists over time concluded that the two who were eventually convicted of sexual abusing patients had identifiable personality problems even while still in training.

That raises the “ethically challenging” prospect of screening medical students for sexually exploitative tendencies before they are assigned to specialty training, the new study noted.

It is simply unclear, meanwhile, why a disproportionate number of psychiatrists are found guilty of fraud-related discipline charges, he said.

Source: Tom Blackwell, “Psychiatrists four times as likely as other Canadian doctors to be disciplined for sexual misconduct: study,” National Post, December 6, 2012.