CEO 87-68 -- September 16, 1987
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
DHRS DISTRICT INTAKE COUNSELOR
PROVIDING PRIVATE COUNSELING SERVICES
To: Ms. Barbara McPherson, District Legal Counsel, District Five, Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services
No prohibited conflict of interest would exist were a District Intake Counselor for the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services privately to provide traditional therapeutic services as a clinical social worker, provided that it would be done during off-duty hours, the services would not be provided to individuals eligible for Department services, and the Intake Counselor would not accept referrals from Department employees. CEO 84-56 and CEO 86-61 are referenced.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest exist were a District Intake Counselor for the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services to provide traditional therapeutic services as a clinical social worker in a private capacity?
Your question is answered in the negative, subject to the restrictions noted below.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that Mr. Kevin Sullivan is an Intake Counselor in the Children, Youth, and Families Program for District Five of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. The program provides screening, investigating, casework, and counseling services to children alleged to have been sexually abused. The subject Intake Counselor develops case plans for assigned clients, provides screening of sexual abuse dependency complaints, and maintains liaison with various departments and agencies. In a telephone conversation with our staff, he advised that his role is investigative rather than therapeutic in nature and that his referral authority is limited to one of five court- sanctioned programs for sexually abused children.
The Intake Counselor recently has received licensure as a clinical social worker from the Department of Professional Regulation and intends to provide traditional therapeutic services to families, most likely as an associate with an established private agency. He would like to receive referrals from any agency or individual, including D.H.R.S. workers, who would refer to family or individual therapy as a component of a treatment plan. However, he would not be working with sex offenders or sexual abuse victims who actively are involved with his program or with any other D.H.R.S. program that his program refers to, either with voluntary participation by the family or through court order.
In prior opinions, we generally have advised that qualified D.H.R.S. personnel are not prohibited from engaging in a private psychiatric or psychological practice. Although the private business entity with which the Intake Counselor would be associated would not be regulated by or doing business with D.H.R.S. District Five, our concern is that the second clause of the following Code of Ethics provision may be violated:
CONFLICTING EMPLOYMENT OR CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP. -- No public officer or employee of an agency shall have or hold any employment or contractual relationship with any business entity or any agency which is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, an agency of which he is an officer or employee . . . ; nor shall an officer or employee of an agency have or hold any employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his private interests and the performance of his public duties or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties. [Section 112.313(7)(a), Florida Statutes (1985).]
In a telephone conversation with our staff, the Intake Counselor noted that he probably would be responsible for generating his own clientele. Because his position is in the Children, Youth, and Families section, the possibility exists that his fellow employees would be influenced in their referral decisions through their working contact with the subject Intake Counselor.
In previous opinions CEO 84-56 and CEO 86-61, several restrictions were placed upon an employee who wished to involve himself in private practice, in order to avoid a situation which would create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his private interests and the performance of his public duties or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties. We believe those same restrictions equally are applicable in this situation.
Accordingly, we find that as long as the subject employee's private clinical social work would be done during off-duty hours, his services would not be provided to individuals eligible for Department services, and he would not accept referrals from Department employees, no prohibited conflict of interest would exist. We would suggest that the subject employee work with his supervisor to notify Department employees who are in a position to receive inquiries concerning the types of therapeutic services he will provide that he is involved in that particular business and that referrals should be made to other individuals providing those services.
The Intake Counselor also mentioned that he is interested in working directly with juvenile sex offenders. If he should decide to follow through on making a proposal to contract with the Department to provide such services in the future, it is suggested that he request another advisory opinion as to the propriety of entering into such a contract.