At the conclusion of the investigation, the BME issued a non-disciplinary public “corrective action order,” effectively announcing my mental illness to the general public. This order required that I continue psychiatric care, that I maintain a physician-patient relationship with a primary care physician, and that I refrain from the abuse of drugs or alcohol, all of which I had already been doing. The order was published in the BME’s quarterly newsletter, was picked up and published by my local newspaper, and was made available on the BME’s public website, despite my objections and despite the fact that I did not act incorrectly and was not in violation of any regulation or statute as a result of my illness. Publication of this order was not based upon any actual threat that my illness posed to the general public but was rather a standard policy acted upon without regard to public safety or privacy considerations. There had been no allegations that I violated any medical practice standards at any time.
Because the BME did not have a program in place for formally monitoring physicians with mental illness, I was eventually referred back to the HPP. The HPP then constructed a psychiatric monitoring program for me so that I could finally be permitted to return to work. Despite the fact that I did not have a substance-use disorder, as a standard condition of HPP enrollment, I was required to participate in its faith-based 12-step addiction treatment program.2,3
I was also forced to sign release forms permitting full disclosure of sensitive, personal mental health information, including ongoing psychotherapy records, between the HPP, my health care providers, my employer, and the medical board. This information was shared and discussed (distorted and misinterpreted) by persons who were not qualified to evaluate it. As a result of this breach of my medical privacy, I fear I’ll never again feel safe within the private sanctity of a psychotherapeutic relationship. I was also denied the right to freely choose my own psychiatrist or psychologist, who required “preapproval” by the medical directors of the BME and HPP.
When I attempted to assert my rights to privacy, autonomy, religious freedom, and appropriate medical and mental health care, the BME threatened me with emergency suspension of my license unless I complied fully with the HPP. In response, in the spring of 2007, I finally hired an attorney and filed a federal lawsuit against the BME. In late 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a district court opinion that “employees of a state medical review board are entitled to absolute immunity from civil suit for their quasi-judicial and quasi-prosecutorial acts” and that I had no legal recourse to contest BME or HPP decisions, no matter how injurious or unjust.