, Newburyport, MA

January 4, 2013

Supreme Court rules against former Port social worker

Newburyport Daily News

---- — NEWBURYPORT — The state Supreme Court this week rejected a claim by a former Newburyport social worker that her license to practice had been unlawfully taken away.

Sandra Clark, who at one time operated an office on Merrimac Street, had her license suspended for five years in December 2009 by the Board of Registration of Social Workers. The board determined that Clark had engaged in a variety of professional misconducts, among them attempting to engage in an improper or dual relationship with a client, and performing a professional function while impaired due to mental illness.

Clark appealed the board’s decision. The decision was upheld by a single member of the Supreme Court. Clark appealed, and earlier this week the Supreme Court issued a new decision, once again supporting the board’s actions.

The court stated that Clark provided services for an employee assistance program through which an employer could seek an assessment of an employee if the employer had a concern about the employee’s mental health. In October and November 2008, Clark had six meetings with a local man whose employer, the City of Newburyport, wanted an assessment as to whether he had an anger management problem. After three or four meetings, Clark determined that he did not have such a problem. At the remainder of their meetings, Clark and the man “talk[ed] about life.”

The court documents did not name the city employee who met with Clark.

Clark subsequently began to feel unwell, and by January 2009 her problems became more severe and included delusions and dissociation, the court document states. She was eventually admitted to a private psychiatric facility for a week. Over a period of several weeks, the court said Clark repeatedly contacted the man by telephone and mail, and had others call him on her behalf.

Over 50 phone calls and letters were sent, the court document states. At first the man responded to her in an effort to help her, but soon after stopped responding to the repeated calls and letters.

In April, she opened an office in Newburyport about 100 yards from where the man worked. He became alarmed and called police, who contacted the Board of Registration of Social Workers. A few months later, the board made its decision to suspend her license.

Clark appealed the decision on several grounds, among them that she did not provide “social work services” to the man because she did not “treat” him. She also argued that there were conflicts between state law and social work regulations, and that the board’s decision was not based on substantive evidence.

The Supreme Court dismissed Clark’s arguments, although it agreed with a point she made regarding the board’s procedures. A hearing officer for the board issued a “tentative decision” that did not recommend any particular punishment. Later, the board issued the five-year suspension. Clark argued that she was entitled to a separate hearing on the sanctions.

The court determined that “Although we conclude that there was no due process violation, we encourage the board, as did the single justice, to modify its procedures regarding the manner in which sanctions are addressed.”