A state psychiatrist committed emotional maltreatment by threatening a mentally ill patient with electroshock therapy, Minnesota's commissioner of human services determined, overruling an earlier decision by her department.
Dr. James Christensen's remark to the patient at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter was "inconsistent with the manner expected of a professional caregiver" and "the conversation constitutes abuse," Commissioner Lucinda Jesson found.
"The reasonable person on the street of St. Paul or St. Peter probably would find a psychiatrist saying — in a raised voice with some anger — that he was going to 'shock your brain' to a committed patient to be threatening," Jesson wrote in a letter explaining her decision, the Star Tribune reported.
Christensen was warned he will be disqualified from working for the state if he commits further maltreatment in the next seven years.
Christensen denied to state investigators that he made the threat, but a state psychologist and another colleague present during the interaction had reported hearing it. Christensen did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. He is the only fulltime psychiatrist on staff at the Minnesota Security Hospital.
Jesson's findings overruled a decision by DHS Inspector General Jerry Kerber, who determined that Christensen's actions didn't amount to maltreatment. Jesson's re-examination of the incident came after Roberta Opheim, the state ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities, formally objected to Kerber's finding.
"I'm gravely disturbed because there is a huge power differential between the doctor and the patient as shown in that threat," Opheim said when she filed her objection.
Kerber's own licensing investigators had recommended a finding of maltreatment. He told the Star Tribune he was not slighted by Jesson's decision to overrule his finding, saying it showed that the system works.