FOX23 INVESTIGATION: New protections for patients

Quick Fact:

  • Proposed legislation would make it illegal for mental health providers to take advantage of their patients sexually
  • Previous FOX23 investigation helped prompt a state senator to introduce the bill this session
  • FOX23 and sister newspaper Atlanta Journal Constitution found accused medical providers often face little to no consequences
  • FOX23 Anchor Shae Rozzi takes a look at what the legislation proposes and whether it goes far enough to help patients
  • WATCH the full investigation above.

Legislation that makes it a crime for mental health providers to have sex with their patients is being considered right now in Oklahoma.

The legislation is being introduced in part because of FOX23’s Shae Rozzi’s previous investigation.

“It has really ruined their lives,” said Mark Edwards, an attorney representing two former patients who are suing former Bartlesville psychiatrist Dr. Kyle Stewart.

“He misdiagnosed them with multiple personalities and he included witchcraft in his treatment of them,” Edwards said.

The treatments also included sexual acts, to which Stewart admitted when he surrendered his license to the medical board.

FOX23 first reported about the lawsuits against Stewart last August.

An investigation launched by our sister newspaper, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, first identified Stewart in a series about doctors across the country who were accused of taking advantage of their patients sexually and often faced little to no consequences.

Stewart has since filed for bankruptcy.

FOX23 tracked him to Norman, but when he was asked if he wanted to say anything, he said “No.”

New legislation by state Sen. Josh Brecheen would change the punishment for those crimes.

“This is something where you want to go after predators?” Rozzi asked.

“Losing their license and not being able to practice again is the goal for me,” Brecheen said.

He authored Senate Bill 657, also called the Protection Against Sexual Exploitation by a Mental Health Provider Act.

It would make sexual exploitation and therapeutic deception by a provider a misdemeanor punishable by up to $5,000. Multiple acts with the same patient would carry a fine of $10,000 and multiple acts with multiple patients would be a felony with a possible $20,000 fine.

Brecheen first tried and failed to get similar legislation passed in 2012.

“You all were among the groups that contacted me and let me know that this issue could be under light again,” he said.

FOX23 found that about two dozen states criminalize sexual contact between psychotherapists and clients in some form.

According to the National Association of Social Workers these are the states:

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, South, Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

FOX23 went through the Oklahoma Medical Board's website and found that doctors with a history of sexual misconduct are often suspended but later allowed to practice.

“The judge and jury are the nine members of the medical board, seven doctors and two members of the public,” said Lyle Kelsey, executive director of the Oklahoma Medical Board.

“There are some people who feel the medical board does more to protect doctors than patients,” Rozzi said.

“I don't think that's correct. I don't think we do protect the doctor. The evidence may not be strong enough, the individuals may not want to testify, just like in the courtroom,” Kelsey said.

Victims who come forward testify in front of the board, and the accused doctor is usually in the room. A camera is sometimes used to allow testimony from a conference room.

“Are there current investigations involving doctors and mental health providers that the board is looking into?” Rozzi asked.

“I think you could always suppose, out of 700 complaints we get a year, there's always something dealing with sexual misconduct,” said Kelsey.

“I think it's a big problem,” Edwards said.

Edwards said it's such a serious problem that malpractice policies for mental health providers include a $25,000 sublimit for sexual misconduct, a fraction of what's normally paid for malpractice.

Edwards would like to see the proposed legislation include jail time.

Brecheen told FOX23 that it's something he'll consider. He said this is a work in progress and he wants feedback from his colleagues.

Look up your doctors on the the Oklahoma Board of Osteopathic Examiners and the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision.