March 31, 2020
By Jon Riches
As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is releasing guidelines about how individuals can cope with anxiety and stress during the coronavirus crisis—and as more and more Arizonans are in need of mental health services in light of the crisis—the Arizona Board of Psychologist Examiners is misapplying state law to deny a license to practice psychology to an experienced and respected psychologist.
Dr. Carol Gandolfo is an accomplished psychologist who has been licensed to practice psychology for nearly 20 years. She received her license in California, but she is now an Arizona resident. That shouldn’t matter, since under the universal recognition law passed last year, all Arizona licensing boards are required to recognize out-of-state licenses if basic criteria are met. Yet, the Arizona Board of Psychologist Examiners denied Dr. Gandolfo a license to practice psychology in this state. And when she appealed the Board’s refusal to abide by state law, the Board chose to retaliate against her by threatening to open an investigation against her for practicing psychology without a license.
Dr. Gandolfo has been a licensed psychologist since August 2000. After receiving her Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree in California, she practiced psychology there for several years, even providing care to developmentally disabled patients with serious behavioral disturbances in two state hospitals. She has also engaged in a successful private practice for many years, and she has published widely in several areas of psychology and family therapy. She is, in short, a respected and consummate professional.
Dr. Gandolfo and her husband moved to Sedona several years ago when her husband retired. Then, last year, Arizona became the first state in the country to pass a universal recognition law, which requires state licensing authorities to grant licenses to Arizona residents who have held a license in good standing in another state for at least a year.
After this measure was signed by Governor Ducey, Dr. Gandolfo applied to the Board for licensure. But although she satisfied every requirement of the law, the Board denied her a license. Why? It contended that the universal recognition law only applies to new residents, not people who moved to Arizona some time ago. It also claimed that because Dr. Gandolfo did not receive her degree from a regionally accredited institution (she received her degree from a state-accredited school), she “does not hold a license from another state at the same practice level” as licensed individuals in Arizona.
But the residency requirement under Arizona’s universal recognition law has no time element—it applies to all residents, old or new—and the entire purpose of the law is to ensure that if an applicant satisfies education and other requirements in another state, that applicant satisfies the criteria for licensure in Arizona, even if the other state’s requirements differ from Arizona’s requirements.
The Board’s interpretation of the law is so far afield that the Governor sent the Board a strongly worded reprimand, advising its members that “[t]he law is clear and your responsibility is to carry it out.” But the Board ignored the Governor’s letter.
That reaction differs notably from how the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health acted. Because Dr. Gandolfo is also licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist in California, she asked that Board to apply the universal licensure rule—and it did so, immediately granting her a license as a Marriage and Family Counselor—all of which demonstrates the arbitrariness of the psychology board’s actions.
Finally, as if its refusal to follow Arizona law was not enough, the state Board of Psychologist Examiners went a step further. After Dr. Gandolfo refused to withdraw her application for a license, it threatened to investigate her for practicing psychology without a license, based entirely on unsubstantiated allegation relating to volunteer work that she did with the Sedona Fire Department. This is plainly retaliation for a citizen exercising her legal rights. (It will consider whether to open this retaliatory investigation at a hearing on April 3.)
The Board’s appalling treatment of Dr. Gandolfo and its refusal to obey Arizona law have gone far enough. “This is a crucial time to support mental health care providers in this state, not ostracize them,” says Carol Gandolfo. “I just want to do my small part to help our communities and those affected by this crisis.” The Board should close its threat to investigation Dr. Gandolfo and grant her application for licensure as the law requires. Carol deserves as much, as do Arizona’s many residents in need of professional care.
Jon Riches is the Director of National Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.