A change in licensing board policy to keep secret facts supporting disciplinary action by the state fails to protect Iowans. (Photo illustration via Canva, with state seal courtesy the State of Iowa)
The rationale behind Iowa’s professional licensing laws is simple: People in certain professions and skilled occupations are required to hold state licenses to work in Iowa. This is to ensure they meet the minimum standard of training and skill necessary to serve consumers safely and effectively.
But a state government policy change leads me to wonder whether our state officials have lost sight of their obligation to act in the best interests of the public. If officials follow through with the new policy in the coming months, then members of the Legislature should step in next session and correct this ill-conceived policy change —and concerned citizens should encourage their lawmakers stick up for the public.
This policy change was disclosed last week by Iowa Capital Dispatch, an independent, nonprofit news site, and its dogged investigative reporter Clark Kauffman. The change, in effect, will keep the public in the dark about the factual circumstances that lead Iowa licensing boards to discipline license holders for violating professional and ethical standards.
Kauffman reported on Monday that the Iowa Board of Chiropractic reversed its decision not to make public the factual circumstances that resulted in the board closing a disciplinary case against an Ottumwa chiropractor this month in exchange for him surrendering his state license. But it is not clear whether state officials have killed the broad policy change they cited initially in declining to make public the factual basis for the case.
The administrative charges filed in March against Bruce Lindberg, 64, are not his first encounter with the chiropractic board or with Iowa’s criminal courts. He has a history of sexual molestation allegations going back nearly 25 years, Kauffman reported. Lindberg surrendered his Iowa chiropractor’s license once before, and the board has suspended his license at least once, too.
In the past, licensing boards in Iowa routinely made public the factual basis for disciplinary charges against license holders like Lindberg when those charges were approved by the boards. Disclosure of the allegations behind the charges allowed consumers to factor that information into their decisions about which physician, chiropractor or other licensee to go to for services.
That practice ended in 2021, however, when the Iowa Supreme Court ruled the Iowa Board of Medicine had been improperly making public confidential investigative information about physicians before taking final action in their cases. The court concluded the factual basis for disciplinary charges could only be disclosed in a licensing board’s final written decision.
But Kauffman reported last week the chiropractic board did not make public the factual description of Lindberg’s conduct that led to the recent agreement to give up his chiropractor’s license. The board only said the new charges involved professional incompetence, negligence, unethical conduct through verbal or physical abuse or through improper sexual conduct, and violation of record-keeping obligations.
The agreement between Lindberg and the board stated the factual circumstances were considered public information and would be incorporated in the settlement, Kauffman reported. Despite those assurances, the facts behind the charges were not made public until the Iowa Capital Dispatch filed a formal demand for that information — an indication state officials initially had more concern for Lindberg’s reputation than for informing people of the Ottumwa area who may have gone to him for treatment.
A spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Inspections, Appeals and Licensing told Kauffman that Attorney General Brenna Bird has decided the factual circumstances behind licensee disciplinary cases will be kept confidential even after a licensing board takes final disciplinary action.
Joe and Jane Citizen certainly should have access to that information. It would be unfair to expect Iowa consumers to make informed choices while being deprived of the reasons a license-holder is disciplined. Secrecy surrounding the factual basis of a licensee’s misconduct certainly protects the professional. But the secrecy endangers the safety of the person’s unsuspecting customers — and that is wrong.
Bruce Lindberg’s involvement with chiropractic board and the courts in the past 25 years illustrates why the unsuspecting public has an important stake in access to factual information about licensing boards completed disciplinary cases.
In 1989 and 1990, for example, Lindberg was charged with multiple counts of committing lascivious acts with a child and indecent contact with a child, Kauffman reported. Lindberg agreed to plead guilty to some of the criminal charges and admitted touching the groin of a child under age 14 for his own sexual gratification. All victims were minors and some were high school athletes, records showed.
At the end of the criminal case, the Iowa Board of Chiropractic brought disciplinary charges against Lindberg, although those charges were less serious, accusing him only of making lewd or suggestive remarks or advances to the minors. Lindberg agreed in 1991 to surrender his license and undergo counseling and periodic evaluations. His license later was reinstated.
In April 2022, he again came under the scrutiny from the chiropractic board when Ottumwa police filed a criminal assault charge. He was accused of instructing a 10-year-old boy, without permission from the boy’s parents, to remove his shirt so Lindberg could massage his back with lotion. Lindberg then allegedly kissed the boy without permission and told him he was “the prettiest boy in the world,” Kauffman reported.
Four months after the charge was filed, a magistrate dismissed the case, deciding there was no criminal intent in Lindberg’s actions. The state board suspended Lindberg’s license when the criminal charge was filed. Following the magistrate’s ruling, the board reinstated his license but barred him from providing care in the future to anyone under age 18 or to any dependent adult.
Then in March of this year, the latest charges were filed. The information made public on Monday by the chiropractic board shows the charges grew out of the same incident at the center of the criminal case. The board said Lindberg’s massage treatment of the 10-year-old boy occurred without his parents’ knowledge or approval. The board also said Lindberg invited the boy to “come back any time, that he did not have to bring his mom, and that he could bring his friends.”
The circumstances surrounding Lindberg’s conduct should convince state regulators and Iowa lawmakers that the public should never have to wonder what occurred when licensing boards take disciplinary action against a professional or other skilled worker whose Iowa license gives them access to consumers.
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