The state medical boards of Colorado and California handled the professional misconduct of an Aurora psychiatrist very differently.
Psychiatrist Elise Sannar signed stipulations with the Colorado State Board of Medical Examiners in 2007 and 2009, in which she admitted professional misconduct. Because she was licensed in both Colorado and California, her conduct was the subject of reviews by the medical boards of both states.
According to the Colorado State Board of Medical Examiners’ Second Stipulation and Final Agency Order dated July 16, 2009 and available on the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies website, psychiatrist Sannar admitted to the following facts:
- From July 2005 to July 2006, she took a leave of absence from a residency program in psychiatry at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center so she could work as a forensic psychiatrist at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (CMHIP).
- In August 2005, patient J.M., an inmate, was transferred to CMHIP with a legal status of Incompetent to Proceed in court with criminal charges against him. Sannar was his treating psychiatrist from roughly the time he arrived at CMHIP through November 2005.
- While in treatment with psychiatrist Sannar, J.M. informed her that he had developed romantic feelings for her. Sannar did not transfer J.M. to another psychiatrist for treatment, as was required by generally accepted standards of practice.
- J.M. left CMHIP in November 2005 with a legal status of Competent to Proceed, after which he was tried on criminal charges and ultimately sentenced to four years in prison.
- Within six months of the end of treating him at CMHIP, Sannar began a romantic relationship with J.M., which continued until approximately February 2007. The details were not specified in the public documents.
- Sannar admits through the documents she signed that she “was aware at all relevant times of the ethical and medical impropriety of beginning and maintaining such a relationship with a patient.”
With a finding of unprofessional conduct, the Colorado State Board of Medical Examiners has a range of disciplinary actions it can take, including suspending, revoking, placing on probation or otherwise restricting, limiting or placing conditions on a license.
What did the Colorado Medical Examiners Board do? It gave her five years probation, dating from November 16, 2007, with certain treatment and monitoring required for Sannar and certain restrictions on her treatment of patients, as detailed in the Second Stipulation and Final Agency Order. Her license remained active.
What did the Medical Board of California do with the same set of facts and admissions from Sannar? It got a signed Stipulation for Surrender of License from her. (The document can be accessed on the Medical Board of California website by entering license #96357.) Sannar can no longer practice as a psychiatrist in the state of California.
Last month, the Colorado State Board of Medical Examiners took yet another action, this time to terminate Sannar’s Second Stipulation after just 3½ years of probation, apparently on Sannar’s petition for early termination. Her license is now active without any conditions in the state of Colorado.
According to her online Physician Profile, Sannar is currently employed as a psychiatrist by the Children’s Hospital in Aurora, and has faculty affiliations at both Children’s Hospital and the University of Colorado Hospital.
What do you think? Did the Colorado State Board of Medical Examiners act appropriately under the circumstances?