News

Counselor loses license over patient ‘misconduct’

By Colleen Smith Armstrong

Islands’ Sounder Editor/Associate Publisher

A San Juan Island chemical dependency counselor has had his license suspended for misconduct with patients.

The Washington State Department of Health charged Clinton Mills with allegedly crossing professional boundaries with a patient, failing to report substance abuse to a patient’s probation officer and using a diploma from an unaccredited university to obtain payment from the state of Washington for services provided to a client.

The alleged behavior was outlined in a “Statement of Charges” and “Final Order,” which are available to the public.

"A statement of charges is in some ways similar to criminal charges — they have not been proven yet," said Tim Church, director of communications for the department of health. "The provider can contest it and make the board prove that they did what the board says they did."

Mills did not return several phone calls made over a period of one week from the Islands' Sounder.

On Nov. 17, Mills waived his opportunity for a hearing. On Nov. 28, the Washington State Department of Health Medical Quality Assurance Commission ruled that Mills committed unprofessional conduct. His credential to practice as a certified chemical dependency professional in the state of Washington was suspended.

Mills can petition for reinstatement in five years. Prior to any reinstatement request, he must pay $5,000 to DOH. Mills was also reprimanded for using a fake diploma to attempt to establish his credentials.

Mills, 47, moved to San Juan Island in 2006 and a year later married a former childhood friend, Shahn McGuire, a mental health counselor with whom he partnered professionally in a Friday Harbor-based counseling practice, Allied Counseling Services.

He joined the town of Friday Harbor planning commission in 2009 and ran against Sheriff's deputy Felix Menjivar for a vacant position on the town council later that year.

Mills lost the election and his tenure on the planning commission proved short-lived, as he resigned less than a year after accepting the appointment.

Mills is also a former owner of Warehouse Coffee, a Friday Harbor espresso shop and delicatessen, known now as Criminal Coffee.

He purchased the business in September 2009 and, after he reportedly stopped making payments in January 2010, the business was reclaimed by its former owner, Dwight Ware, who later resold it.

Misconduct detailed

DOH documents provide the following outline of Mills' alleged misconduct.

Beginning in February 2008, he provided chemical dependency and counseling services to “Client A,” a teenage male. Mills hired him to clean the office, paying the boy $100. Client A wanted to purchase a video game, which Mills did for him over the internet.

According to the Statement of Charges, this “blurred the professional boundaries between counselor and client and fell below the standard of care.”

In addition, Mills did not keep complete session notes or other records regarding Client A nor did he provide a disclosure statement to that patient or any party responsible for him.

Beginning in April 2009, Mills provided chemical dependency and counseling services to “Client B,” a 22-year-old woman. She was court-ordered to obtain an alcohol and drug evaluation as a condition of criminal action.

According to the Statement of Charges, she appeared at counseling sessions while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Mills also saw Client B outside of sessions, when she appeared to be intoxicated. Mills did not record this information in her chart, and did not report these violations to her probation officer until Client B made allegations against Mills.

On one occasion, when the patient arrived at Mill's home, he allowed her inside, where they were alone. Mills then drove the patient to her aunt's house. They went inside, at which point Mills drank alcohol with Client B's relatives.

Mills also hugged his patient and gave her a “peck on the cheek” at the end of some of her treatment sessions.

The Statement of Charges also says that Mills obtained a “master's degree” online from Belford University, based on his stated “life experience.” Belfor University is not accredited with the United States Department of Education.

Respondent used this diploma in his practice to obtain payment from the State of Washington for services to Client A and/or Client A's family.  Respondent also provided this credential to the court to attest to his competency to provide mental health treatment.

Investigations driven by complaints

Church says nearly all investigations stem from complaints made my patients, patients' families or co-workers of the health practitioner. Those identities are kept private.

Once the department of health board reviews the charges and the health practitioner's statement, it makes a decision on the penalties.

Disciplinary matters have a far range of repercussions — they can be anything from revoking a license to restricting what kind of patients a doctor can see to providing more education to the professional.

The "statement of charges" and " final order" documents are available online at http://goo.gl/RMUi2.

— Journal editor Scott Rasmussen contributed to this report

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