After complaints, state board finds Homer physical therapist didn’t violate regulations

Two complaints made against a physical therapist at South Peninsula Hospital to the state’s licensing board for therapists have been reviewed and closed. An unidentified board member found the therapist did not violate statutes or regulations governing the practice.

Therapist Douglas Westphal was placed on administrative leave from the hospital in December 2017 following allegations made by several female staff members of the rehabilitation department that he had acted inappropriately. The women alleged Westphal, who at the time was director of the department and their direct supervisor, had bullied, sexually harassed or otherwise harassed them at work.

Following an internal hospital investigation, Wesphal returned from his administrative leave and went back to work as a physical therapist, but is no longer the rehab department’s director. That’s a position he had served in since 2009.

One former patient alleged Westphal had touched her inappropriately during a physical therapy session in 2009.

That woman, Lora Wilke, filed a formal complaint against Westphal to the Alaska Board of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy. So did occpational therapist Sarah Bollwitt, one of Westphal’s former employees who was among those making allegations. Bollwitt transferred out of the physical therapy department and into home health.

Both women got letters dated Dec. 7 from an investigator with the physical and occupational therapy board informing them their complaints had been reviewed by a board member and their cases closed. Both letters were sent to the Homer News.

Investigator Autumn Roark wrote in the letters that “there was no indication of a violation(s) of the statutes and regulations that govern the practice of physical and occupational therapy in the State of Alaska.”

In each case, this determination was made by one of seven members of the board who reviewed the respective inquiry. In regard to Bollwitt’s complaint, Roark wrote that the reviewing board member determined the alleged violations were an internal hospital personnel issue that had already been addressed.

Neither case advanced to an official investigation phase. The Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing process for a complaint is for it and information gathered in an inquiry to be reviewed by a single board member. The complaint only moves into an official investigation phase if that board member determines there was a violation of statutes or regulations.

In an email to Bollwitt provided to the Homer News, Roark wrote that the board can’t give out the name of the member who performed the review, saying that information is confidential. The members who sit on the physical and occupational therapy board are: Robert Calhoon, an occupational therapist from Anchorage; Jennifer Carlson, a physical therapist in Fairbanks; Ruth Kostik, a public member in Juneau; James Parietti, a physical therapist in Chugiak; Keith Poorbaugh, a physical therapist in Palmer; Mari-Margaret Tydingco, an occupational therapist in Sitka; and Enlow Walker, a physician in North Pole.

Both Wilke and Bollwitt said they had no comments about the outcome of their complaints.

Derotha Ferraro, South Peninsula Hospital spokesperson, said hospital administration were pleased to get the news of the complaint results.

“We take complaints seriously and support an outside regulatory body looking into unusual allegations,” Ferraro wrote in an email. “We appreciate the state investigated (sic), and are happy with the outcome.”

According to a search of Westphal’s physical therapy license on the state licensing website, there are not currently any agreements, actions or accusations associated with his license. Those are all different outcomes that could come from an investigation into a complaint against a physical therapist.

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