TAMPA — A Tampa psychologist who billed a patient's insurance company for treating her when he actually was having sex with her has had his license suspended in an emergency action by state health officials.
Daniel R. Lerom, 49, also repeatedly received prescription painkillers from the patient, a Florida Health Department investigation found. Lerom charged the patient's insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, more than $1,400 for "specialty consults" when, in fact, the pair were meeting for sex. The woman, a Lakeland resident who first saw Lerom for marriage counseling in 1995, was not named in the state's report.
"Dr. Lerom's willingness to engage in sexual misconduct with a patient and to exploit her for the insurance proceeds as well as for her prescription medication demonstrate a serious defect in Dr. Lerom's judgment and moral character," wrote Dr. Ana M. Viamonte Ros, Florida's surgeon general in issuing the emergency suspension of Lerom's license on Jan. 15.
Lerom has operated Plaza Therapy Associates, offering marriage and family counseling, on Tampa's West Kennedy Boulevard since 1990. He did not return calls seeking comment.
Lerom also provided counseling on Thursday evenings at Victory Church in Lakeland in space provided as a public service. It was there that he first began counseling the woman, then 23, and her husband. After the couple's divorce, the woman continued visiting Lerom sporadically for counseling services until August 2008, when their sessions became more regular.
The state's investigation reports Lerom stopped providing therapy in early February last year and the two started a sexual relationship shortly thereafter. The board of psychology's rules bar psychologists from having "sexual intimacies" with former clients, saying such activities "undermine public confidence in the psychology profession."
Under Florida law, a psychotherapist "who commits sexual misconduct with a client or former client when the professional relationship was terminated primarily for the purpose of engaging in sexual contact," commits a felony. There is no record of criminal charges having been filed against Lerom.
The relationship continued until May, when Lerom's wife discovered a text message between the two and the psychologist ended the relationship. The woman's psychiatrist said she was hospitalized for two days in mid May, "after breakdown due to stress" because of the breakup.
The state's investigation found that on several occasions, Lerom persuaded the woman to give him painkillers and anti-anxiety pills she had been prescribed by her psychiatrist. In one text message in March, he wrote, "needing more percocet or oxycodone for my back! want to know if u could get ome for torrmw?!?"
Lerom also maxed out the woman's annual allowable number of psychotherapy visits under her insurance when he billed Blue Cross for a dozen "consults" — actually sexual liaisons — between February and April. After the relationship ended, Lerom told the woman he had refunded the money, but the investigation found that only $117.40 of more than $1,400 had been repaid.
The state's highest health official cited the need to protect the public in immediately suspending Lerom's license. The Health Department's findings will be given to the board of psychology, which could impose a range of discipline, from reprimand to revocation of his license.
Times staff research Shirl Kennedy and staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.