Ex-patients of occupational therapists in Florida are now having to fight a court battle to protect their rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging the Florida Court of Appeals ruling that found a therapist who uses occupational therapy exercises on patients with mental illness had the right to exercise that therapy.
A judge has also ruled that the state cannot revoke an occupational therapy license.
“We are going to fight this to the death,” said Alicia S. Smith, an assistant professor of psychology at Emory University.
“There is no way out.”
The lawsuit, filed in May, was first filed in January, when the Florida Department of Health approved the therapist’s work at the request of a Florida psychiatrist.
The decision came after a public outcry about the work, which was widely criticized as coercive and abusive.
The state had previously rejected an appeal from a patient who complained about the therapy.
In July, the court issued an order finding the therapist was a licensed mental health professional who was exercising the right of the state to regulate its medical practices.
Smith says her former patient, who has mental illness and needs the therapy, felt pressured to have it.
“He felt that he needed to go through this because he needed this therapy,” she said.
“I think that was the whole thing.
I’m hoping that’s what will happen in this case.”
But the lawsuit also alleges the state failed to act on the complaint because of political pressure from the Republican-controlled Legislature.
In response to the lawsuit, Gov.
Rick Scott called the ACLU’s efforts “politically motivated.”
Smith says the lawsuit is about more than just the abuse.
It’s also about protecting the right for patients with psychiatric illness to seek treatment for their mental health needs, she said, and it’s a “huge issue in Florida.”
The Florida Department’s policy is that occupational therapists can only provide treatment in their own home.
But in the past year, the ACLU and others have raised concerns about whether licensed mental healthcare professionals can use the exercise on patients in the state.
The state Department of Licensing and Regulation has said that the use of occupational therapist exercise is allowed under state law.
However, Smith says she was given conflicting information from both the Florida Health Department and the state’s licensing board, which said it does not consider it a medical practice.
“I think there’s a disconnect between what was being said about the safety of the practice and what was actually being practiced,” she added.
The lawsuit was filed under the Freedom of Information Act by the ACLU of Florida.
Smith is also asking the state attorney general to investigate.