Disciplinary Action against Sam Zeller
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
In 2014, the Washington State Certified Counselor's Program charged Samuel Zeller with acting unprofessionally by failing to properly assess and treat a client. Zeller, who owns and directs the Robust Life Center in Seattle, Washington, has been licensed since 2010 as a certified counselor. In 2015, Zeller signed an agreed stipulation and order (shown below) which states:
- Zeller's Center promotes "vibrant health through nutritional healing." Among other things, he discloses to prospective clients that his area of practice is "total wellness and life enrichment" and "enhancing life experience and improving health through proper nutritional support and life coaching."
- In April 2011, a 79-year-old client sought services for help with stress, memory difficulties, sleeplessness, and bowel irritation. Zeller treated the client over a 14-month period that included approximately 36 visits for which he paid $4,639.83 for services and nutritional supplements.
- Zeller failed to provide the client with adequate disclosure documents.
- Zeller's records were inadequate because they lacked sufficient progress notes to support clinical practice.
- Zeller practiced beyond his authorized scope of practice by (a) failing to document the client's level of functional impairment and (b) doing "nutrition response testing" or engaging in other diagnostic procedures.
The agreement requires Zeller to (a) pay a $3,000 fine, (b) take continuing education courses in professional law, ethics, and counseling scope of practice, (c) serve on probation for at least two years, (d) refrain from diagnosing nutritional needs or otherwise diagnosing his counseling clients with any medical condition, (e) refrain from recommend to his counseling clients any particular nutritional supplements as a necessary or advisable means to treat or cure a particular medical condition, and (f) if he continues to work as a clinical counselor, ensure that his supervisor submits semi-annual performance evaluation reports to the Program. Nutrition response testing is a pseudoscientific system based on the notion testing arm strength can determine "organ weaknesses" that can be remedied by nutritional supplementation.
STATE OF WASHINGTON
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
SECRETARY OF HEALTH
In the Matter of
STIPULATED FINDINGS OF FACT,
The Certified Counselor's Program (Program), through Janet Staiger, Department of Health Staff Attorney, and Respondent, represented by counsel, Benjamin Nivison, stipulate and agree to the following:
1. PROCEDURAL STIPULATIONS
1.1 On July 16, 2014, the Program issued a Statement of Charges against Respondent.
1.2 Respondent understands that the Program is prepared to proceed to a hearing on the allegations in the Statement of Charges.
1.3 Respondent understands that if the allegations are proven at a hearing, the Secretary of Health (Secretary) has the power and authority to impose sanctions pursuant to RCW 18.130.160.
1.4 Respondent has the right to defend against the allegations in the Statement of Charges by presenting evidence at a hearing.
1.5 Respondent waives the opportunity for a hearing on the Statement of Charges provided that the Secretary accepts this Stipulated Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Agreed Order (Agreed Order).
1.6 The parties agree to resolve th1s matter by means of this Agreed Order.
1.7 Respondent understands that this Agreed Order is not binding unless and until it is signed by the Health Law Judge and served by the Adjudicative Clerk Office.
1.8 If the Secretary accepts this Agreed Order, it will be reported to the National Practitioner Databank (45 CFR Part 60) and elsewhere as required by law. It is a public document and will be placed on the Department of Health's website and otherwise disseminated as required by the Public Records Act (Chap. 42.56 RCW) and the Uniform Disciplinary Act RCW 18.130.110.
1.9 If the Secretary rejects this Agreed Order, Respondent waives any objection to the participation at hearing of the Presiding Officer who heard the Agreed Order presentation.
2. FINDINGS OF FACT
Respondent and the Program acknowledge that the evidence is sufficient to justify the following findings:
2.1 On June 30, 2010, the State of Washington issued Respondent a credential to practice as a certified counselor. Respondent's credential is currently active.
2.2 Respondent is the owner and director of Robust Life Center, Seattle, Washington, a business "promoting vibrant health through nutritional healing." Among other things, Respondent discloses to prospective clients that his area of practice is "total wellness and life enrichment" and "enhancing life experience and improving health through proper nutritional support and life coaching."
2.3 On or about April 19, 2011, Client A, age seventy-nine (79) years, sought services from Respondent at the Robust Life Center for multiple health issues including stress, memory difficulties, sleeplessness, and bowel irritation. Respondent treated Client A until on or about June 21, 2012, for a total of approximately thirty-six (36) visits. Client A paid Respondent a total of four thousand six hundred thirty-nine dollars and eighty-three cents ($4,639.83) for services and nutritional supplements.
2.4 The Program alleges that Respondent practiced below the standard of care while treating Client A, including the following:
A. The disclosure statement failed to include:
B. Inadequate record keeping, including insufficient progress notes to support clinical practice.
- Current credential information.
- Sufficient fee and advance payment information.
- A purpose statement of Counseling Credential Act, 18.19 RCW.
- A copy of Uniform Disciplinary Act, 18.130.180 RCW.
- Respondent's signed/dated signature.
2.5 The Program alleges that Respondent practiced beyond his scope of practice while treating Client A, including by the following:
A. Failing to maintain a current written agreement with a consultant.
B. Failing to document and/or screen for Client A's level of functional impairment using the global assessment of functioning.
C. Conducting "nutrition response testing" or engaging in other diagnostic procedures for Client A.
3. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Respondent and the Program agree to the entry of the following Conclusions of Law:
3.1 The Secretary of Health, acting through the Presiding Officer, has jurisdiction over Respondent and over the subject matter of this proceeding.
3.2 Respondent has committed unprofessional conduct. as defined by statute, in violation of RCW 18.130180(7), (12); WAC246-81 0-0201 ; WAC 246-810-025(2); WAC 246-81 0-031 (2)(c) , (9), (k), (I), (m); WAC 246-840-032; WAC 246-810-035(1)(g); and WAC 246-810-045(1).
3.3 The above violations provide grounds for imposing sanctions under RCW 18.130.160.
4. COMPLIANCE WITH SANCTION RULES
4.1 The disciplining authority applies WAC 246-16-800, at seq., to determine appropriate sanctions. WAC 246-16-800(2)(c) requires the disciplining authority to impose terms based on a specific sanction schedule unless "the schedule does not adequately address the facts in a case."
4.2 Respondent's alleged conduct falls in Tier A of the "Practice Below Standard of Care" schedule, WAC 246-16-810. The sanction range associated with that tier does adequately address the alleged facts of this case.
5. AGREED ORDER
Based on the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, Respondent agrees to entry of the following Agreed Order:
5.1 Respondent's credential to practice as a certified counselor in the state of Washington shall be placed on PROBATION for at least two (2) years, commencing on the effective date of this Agreed Order. During the course of probation, Respondent shall· comply with all of the following terms and conditions.
5.2 Respondent shall pay a fine to the Program in the amount of three thousand dollars ($3,000.00), which must be received by the Program within one (1) year of the effective date of this Agreed Order. The fine shall be paid by certified or cashier's check or money order, made payable to the Department of Health and mailed to the Department of Health, Certified Counselor Program, at PO Box 1099, Olympia, WA 98507-1099. Credit or Debit cards can also be used for payment at the front counter of the Department of Health building at 111 Israel Road SE, Tumwater, WA 98501, during regular business hours.
5.3 Respondent will not diagnose nutritional needs or otherwise diagnose his counseling clients with any medical condition. While acting as a certified counselor, Respondent will not recommend to his counseling clients any particular nutritional supplements as a necessary or advisable means to treat or cure a particular medical condition.
5.4 Respondent will ensure that his certified counselor disclosure statement is revised to correct all deficiencies referenced above in the Findings of Fact,
Paragraph 2.4(A). Within 30 days of the effective date of this Agreed Order, Respondent will provide to the Program a copy of a revised set of disclosure statements that corrects these deficiencies, and he shall thereafter utilize that set of disclosure statements in his practice as a certified counselor.
5.5 Respondent shall cause his qualified consultation supervisor (supervisor) to submit semi-annual performance evaluation reports directly to the Program on forms provided by the Department. The supervisor reports shall address Respondent's performance as a certified counselor and if he is complying with paragraph 5.3 above. If Respondent is not employed as a certified counselor, Respondent shall submit semi-annual declarations, under penalty of perjury, on forms provided by the Department, stating dates of unemployment as a certified counselor, in lieu of the employer reports. The first supervisor report or unemployment declaration shall be due thirty (30) days from six (6) months thereafter, for two (2) years or until otherwise ordered by the Program. Failure to submit information and/or to make true statements may lead to further disciplinary action, up to and including suspension and revocation.
5.6 Within six (6) months of the effective date of this Agreed Order, Respondent shall provide evidence to the Program that he has successfully completed six (6) hours of course-work, pre-approved by the Program or its designee, in the area of professional law and ethics and counseling scope of practice. The course-work must be taken at an accredited educational institution or through a program otherwise approved by the Program. Respondent shall provide the Program with proof of completion of such course-work within thirty (30) days of such completion.
5.7 Any documents required by this Agreed Order shall be sent to Department of Health Compliance at PO Box 47873, Olympia, WA 98504-7873.
5.8 Respondent is responsible for all costs of complying with this Agreed Order.
5.9 Respondent shall inform the Department of Health Office of Customer Service, ill writing, of changes in Respondent's residential and/or business address within thirty (30) days of the change. The mailing address for the Office of Customer Service is PO Box 47865, Olympia, WA 98504-7865.
5.10 The effective date of this Agreed Order is the date the Adjudicative Clerk Office places the signed Agreed Order into tile U.S. mail. If required, Respondent shall not submit any fees or compliance documents until after the effective date of this Agreed Order.
I, SAMUEL CONRAD ZEILER, have read, understand and agree to this Agreed Order. This Agreed Order may be presented to the Secretary without my appearance. I understand that I will receive a signed copy if the Secretary accepts this Agreed Order.
SAMUEL CONRAD ZEILER
DATE: May 11, 2015
BENJAMIN NIVISON WSBA #39797
ATTORNEY FOR RESPONDENT
DATE: MAY 11, 2015
The Secretary of Health accepts this Stipulated Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Agreed Order.
DATED: MAY 12, 2015
HEALTH LAW JUDGE
JANET STAIGER, WSBA#16573
DEPARTMENTOF HEALTH STAFF ATTORNEY
This article was posted on July 13, 2015.