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Haley to hire mental health supervisors

TAMPA — Leaders at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center previously dismissed the claim that some of the unlicensed psychologists on their staff received inadequate supervision.

But five months after the St. Petersburg Times reported those concerns, Haley on Friday confirmed that it will soon hire up to 12 supervisors to oversee operations for its mental health services.

Dr. Edward Cutolo, Haley's chief of staff, said in an interview the decision is part of an overall re-evaluation of operations to improve performance and to better cope with an ever increasing number of patients.

He said the changes had nothing to do with allegations raised in previous Times articles or a staffer's complaint that triggered those stories.

The Florida Department of Health has been investigating allegations about unlicensed psychology at Haley, which is the nation's busiest Department of Veterans Affairs hospital.

The Times could not determine late Friday if that inquiry is continuing.

Cutolo also said that Dr. Arthur Rosenblatt, who had supervised roughly 36 psychologists by himself, had moved on to other duties within Haley, though the move is not considered a demotion.

Rosenblatt, who could not be reached for comment, will retain supervisory responsibilities, though not with psychologists.

In December, the VA said about eight of 36 staff psychologists had not received licenses. One licensed psychologist complained that unlicensed psychologists improperly performed some of the duties of licensed staff members.

All the unlicensed workers, Haley said, were on track to receive their licenses, which require a certain level of clinical experience.

The psychologist who filed the complaint, Dr. Brian Nussbaum, said in December that three of four psychologists in Haley's posttraumatic stress disorder clinic were unlicensed.

Nussbaum said he feared patient care was endangered by the inexperienced psychologists treating some of the most troubled VA patients.

"I'm very pleased with that I see going on now and what they're doing," Nussbaum said Friday. "I'm glad to see actual change. I can't imagine the initial complaint didn't play some role in bringing this about."

Cutolo said he did not have a timetable for when the supervisors would be hired, though he said some were expected to be employees already at Haley.

In addition, the supervisors will oversee the work of a range of employees, including psychiatrists, social workers and psychologists.

John Pickens, a regional spokesman for the VA in Florida, said the agency has received additional funding to provide for veterans' mental health needs. And that extra funding requires programs to be re-evaluated and, in some cases, supervised differently.

Cutolo said, "It's just an opportune time to change our whole operational structure. We've grown so rapidly, we're looking at ways to improve services."

In two years, he said, the number of mental health workers within the Haley system has increased from 80 to 250.

Cutolo said some employees had previously had quasi-supervisory duties. But often, their authority was limited in many ways.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3436.

Haley to hire mental health supervisors 05/23/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 23, 2008 11:19pm]
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