August 6, 2014

The State Worker: No legal wiggle-room for license renewal

Nearly two years ago, Melissa Paul suffered unimaginable loss when her 13-year-old daughter committed suicide in their Porterville home.

Nearly two years ago, Melissa Paul suffered unimaginable loss when her 13-year-old daughter committed suicide in their Porterville home.

Now, after struggling with debilitating depression and fighting her way back to work last fall, the state psychiatric technician assistant has lost her job of 15 years – for now at least – because of a legal technicality over when she took required training classes to renew her license.

State officials offer their sympathies but they say there’s nothing they can do.

Paul’s daughter Courtney was in junior high when she died in October 2012, desperate to escape bullying.

“We had no idea there was a problem,” Paul said, “until I found her in her room.”

Debilitating depression followed. “I was barely putting one foot in front of the other,” Paul said.

A year and one day after Courtney’s death, Paul returned to work at the state’s Porterville Developmental Center. She described her work as “taking care of people who have tempers, who harm themselves or others. People who start fires. Child molesters. People who don’t know how to function in society. I do their bathing, changing diapers, bed care … that sort of thing.”

Many people would find the job distasteful. Paul finds it therapeutic. “I can go to work and function as a normal person,” she said.

But a snag surfaced when she submitted her license-renewal paperwork. The state requires psychiatric technician assistants to possess a certified nurse assistant license, which means they have to amass 48 continuing education units every two years.

The law says at least 12 of those units must be taken in one year or the other. Licensees can’t cram more than 36 hours into a single year.

Paul didn’t know that. Even if she had known the law, Paul said she couldn’t have met the requirement: “There was no way I could go pick out a casket and then go do my 12 CEUs.”

Since returning to work last fall, she completed 49.5 educational hours, Paul said, but when she submitted her renewal application in June, the Department of Public Health rejected it. All of her units were in the last year, violating the no-cramming-CEUs law. Her license expired last Thursday.

After this column called Public Health about Paul’s license, officials offered to let her take an exam right away, said spokeswoman Anita Gore. Paul declined and signed up for a September exam.

“It’s been 15 years since I took that test,” she said. “I need time to study.”

Paul’s employer, the Department of Developmental Services, offered her a food services job in the meantime. Paul took it, fearing what would happen if she didn’t. “They would say I left voluntarily,” she said, and that could make it hard to come back.

Paul started the new job on Sunday. It pays at least $300 per month less, she said, “and I don’t even like to cook.”

It’s a tough lesson: Government runs on rules of relentless inflexibility.

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