AVOIDING LIABILITY BLOG

Covid-19 Return to In-Person

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Practitioners have changed the way they practice as a result of the pandemic, which seems to be moderating, and once again, practitioners will be returning to practice in their offices. Innumerable issues surely will arise as a result of the transition back to in-person treatment. A continued and likely increase in the use of telehealth is to be expected, but the return to the office is certain. Because all of this is new, unique and ever-changing, it is sometimes difficult for practitioners to navigate. It is important for practitioners to be aware of the resources available online – which comes from the several state and national professional associations representing the various mental health professions, as well as from governmental entities, both state and local, including licensing and public health authorities. This information is likely to change over time.

As stated above, innumerable issues can arise. For example, suppose a practitioner decides to return to an office setting. Is the practitioner vaccinated? Must the practitioner disclose to patients that they have been vaccinated or that they are unvaccinated? If unvaccinated, is it necessary for the practitioner to wear a mask? Is it permissible to require patients to present proof that they have been vaccinated? If a patient says that they have been vaccinated and that they have lost their proof, is it permissible for the practitioner to refuse to provide in-person treatment or would that impermissibly impugn the character of the patient?

There is no end to the questions that may or will arise. Some circumstances may require legal consultation. Other circumstances may be resolved by the exercise of sound judgment (perhaps after conversations with colleagues), which should be informed, at a minimum, by the resources referred to above. Hopefully, these extraordinary conditions for patients and practitioners alike, will soon end, or at least significantly lessen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Leslie

"At the Intersection of Law and Psychotherapy" Richard S. Leslie is an attorney who has practiced at the intersection of law and psychotherapy for the past twenty-five years. Most recently, he was a consultant to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), where he worked with their various state divisions to develop and implement their legislative agendas. He also provided telephone consultation services to AAMFT members regarding legal and ethical issues confronting practitioners of diverse licensure nationwide. Additionally, he wrote articles regarding legal and ethical issues for their Family Therapy Magazine and presented at workshops on a variety of legal issues. Prior to his work with AAMFT, Richard was Legal Counsel to the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) for approximately twenty-two years. He was director of Government Relations for CAMFT, and as such was the architect of CAMFT’s widely regarded and successful legislative agenda. He represented CAMFT before the regulatory board (the Board of Behavioral Sciences) and was a tireless advocate for due process and fairness for licensees and applicants. He was a regular presenter at workshops and was consistently evaluated as CAMFT’s most highly rated presenter. He also sat with the CAMFT Ethics Committee and acted as their advisor on matters pertaining to the enforcement of ethical standards. Richard is an acknowledged expert on matters pertaining to the interrelationship between law and the practice of marriage and family therapy and psychotherapy. For many years, he taught Law and Ethics courses for a number of colleges and universities in their marriage and family therapy degree programs. While at CAMFT, he provided telephone consultation services with thousands of therapists in California and elsewhere for over twenty years. He is highly regarded for his judgment, his expertise, his direct style, and his clarity. Richard has been the driving force for many of the changes and additions to the laws of the State of California that affect MFTs. In 1980, he was primarily responsible for achieving passage of the "Freedom of Choice Law" that required insurance companies to pay for psychotherapy services performed by MFTs. Passage of that law allowed MFTs to earn a living, allowed them to better compete in the marketplace, and strengthened the profession in California by leading to a great increase in the number of licensees and CAMFT membership. Currently, about half of the licensed marriage and family therapists in the country are licensed in California. While at CAMFT, Richard was primarily responsible for, among other things, the successful effort to criminalize sex between a patient and a therapist. He was successful in extending the laws of psychotherapist-patient privilege to MFTs, thereby giving patients the same level of privacy protection as when seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist. He fought tirelessly and successfully for the right of MFTs to refer to themselves as "psychotherapists," to perform psychological testing services, to be appropriately reimbursed by California’s Victims of Crime Program, and to be employed in county mental health agencies throughout California. Richard was admitted to the Bar in New York (1969) and in California (1973). While practicing in New York, he served as a public defender, and later, as an Assistant District Attorney. Shortly after moving to California, he worked for the San Diego County Human Relations Commission as their Law and Justice Officer. While there, he worked successfully to achieve greater racial diversity in the criminal jury selection system and to expose and stop police abuse. For such work with that agency, he was the recipient of the Civil Libertarian of the Year Award by the San Diego Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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