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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Professional Psychology: Collection Agencies, Confidentiality, Records, Treatment, and Staff Supervision in New Jersey

DOCKET NO. A-4975-17T3

In the Matter of the Suspension or Revocation of the License of L. Barry Helfmann, Psy.D.

Here are two excerpts:

The complaint included five counts. It alleged Dr. Helfmann failed to do the following: take reasonable measures to protect confidentiality of the Partnership's patients' private health information; maintain permanent records that accurately reflected patient contact for treatment purposes; maintain records of professional quality; timely release records requested by a patient; and properly instruct and supervise temporary staff concerning patient confidentiality and record maintenance. The Attorney General sought sanctions under the UEA.


The regulation is clear. The doctor's argument to the contrary, that a psychologist could somehow confuse his collection attorney with a patient's authorized representative, is refuted by the regulation's plain language as well as consideration of its entire context. The doctor's argument is without sufficient merit to warrant further discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).

We find nothing arbitrary about the Board's rejection of Dr. Helfmann's argument that he violated no rule or regulation because he relied on the advice of counsel in providing the Partnership's collection attorney with patients' confidential information. His assertion is contrary to the sworn testimony of the collection attorney who was deposed, as distinguished from another collection attorney with whom the doctor spoke in the distant past. The latter attorney's purported statement that confidential information might be necessary to resolve a patient's outstanding fee does not consider, let alone resolve, the propriety of a psychologist releasing such information in the face of clear statutory and regulatory prohibitions.

The Board found that Dr. Helfmann, not his collection attorneys, was charged with the professional responsibility of preserving his patients' confidential information. Perhaps the doctor's argument that he relied on the advice of counsel would have had greater appeal had he asked for a legal opinion on providing confidential patient information to collection attorneys in view of the psychologist-patient privilege and a specific regulatory prohibition against doing so absent a statutory or traditional exception. That the Board found unpersuasive Dr. Helfmann's hearsay testimony about what attorneys told him years ago is hardly arbitrary and capricious, considering the Partnership's current collection attorney's testimony and Dr. Helfmann's statutory and regulatory obligations to preserve confidentiality.

The decision is here.