Revocation upheld for refusal to submit for mental examination

By February 7, 2013 Nursing

The state nursing board has the power under state law to revoke a license in the case of a refusal to submit to a board-ordered mental health examination, the Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, Division Two held September 26 (Ophelia Lee v. Board of Registered Nursing).

Ophelia Lee, the nurse whose license was at issue, was working at Eden Medical Center in the Bay area in 2007 when she complained to her supervisors about two separate series of incidents.

Lee believed that she was the subject of bullying and racial discrimination by her supervisor and other nurses based on her Chinese ethnicity, and that she was being stalked by a man named Tony Chen. Chen, she claimed, had been stalking her for the last nine years and had also begun to stalk a doctor at Eden. But when that doctor was contacted by hospital authorities, so many details of Lee’s story were found to be inaccurate that Eden’s Human Resource Director, Phyllis Weiss, had Lee report for an evaluation by a doctor in the hospital’s occupational health clinic.

That doctor found that Lee was not fit for duty, after which Weiss ordered Lee to report for a psychiatric evaluation before she could return to work. A psychiatrist who evaluated Lee diagnosed her as having a psychotic disorder, manifested by paranoid delusions, and also concluded that she was not fit for duty.

Following that diagnosis, the hospital placed Lee on medical leave and informed her that she would need to submit to treatment before she could resume work. Lee however, failed to communicate with the hospital during her absence. Eventually, the hospital terminated her employment and informed the state’s Board of Nursing about its concerns. A lawsuit against the hospital followed, with Lee alleging racial discrimination and labor and contract violations, but her claims were eventually dismissed.

The board ordered Lee to submit to a mental evaluation in 2009. Lee refused to see any mental health professional that she did not choose herself, and eventually she refused to submit to any evaluation at all. After a hearing, the board revoked Lee’s license for her failure to sit for an evaluation. Lee appealed, and the case made its way to the Court of Appeals.

Justice James Richman, writing for the court, noted that the board’s action was supported by a California statute that allows the board to order a licensee to submit to a mental evaluation if that person appears to be impaired, and allows the board to revoke the license of a professional who refuses to submit to such an evaluation. This had been the board’s sole basis for disciplining Lee and the court determined it was sufficient.

“All that is relevant is that Lee did not comply with the board’s order to submit to a mental evaluation,” Richman wrote. “Although Lee argues strenuously that the order should not have been made, the board’s power to make it cannot be the subject of dispute in the face of the Legislature’s declaration that ‘Protection of the public shall be the highest priority for the Board of Registered Nursing in exercising its… disciplinary functions.’”

© 2012 Professional Licensing Report, published by ProForum, a non-profit research group, www.plrnet.org. Reprinted by permission.

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