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Thinking About Retiring?

Avoiding Malpractice: Tips for Social Workers to Manage Risk

Thinking About Retiring? Here are Some Steps to Help You Make a Plan.

If you are thinking about closing your practice, there are many questions that need to be addressed. How should you inform your clients, both past, and present? What legal and ethical obligations do you have when closing your practice? Where do you start? This topic is broader than these tips will cover, but this will help you get started.

Some important steps to consider:

  1. Existing clients need to be told when the practice is closing. All clients will not be ready to terminate treatment by the closing date.
  2. Allow sufficient time for clients needing additional treatment to transfer to other therapists.
  3. Provide all existing clients with referral options.
  4. At some point, stop taking new clients.
  5. The disposition of records needs to be considered carefully. While some clients will have copies of their treatment records transferred to another therapist, the original client records should remain with the retiring social workers. Be sure to obtain a signed release of information form before transferring records.
  6. Determine what state laws, regulations, or ethical standards (or guidelines) require.
  7. Existing and past clients should be told how they may access their records in the future. Send a letter to past clients to inform them of your retirement and how they can access their records.
  8. Retirement planning should involve some estate planning. Ideally, a social worker’s will should provide instructions on how client records should be handled. If possible, the will should appoint a custodian of client records. Consult an attorney to be certain that estate and legal issues associated with closing a practice are addressed appropriately.
  9. Professional liability agents/insurers should be notified of retirement plans. Social workers covered by a “claims made” policy such as the one offered by the NASW Insurance should consider purchasing the maximum liability limits available prior to retirement. The NASW-Endorsed policy gives insured social workers a free extended reporting rider or “tail” in the amount of the liability limits in force at retirement. Increasing liability limits prior to retirement is an inexpensive way to maximize coverage. But remember, the insured MUST contact the insurance agent to obtain the free “tail.” It is not automatic and can only be elected for a window of 90 days. Letting the policy lapse at retirement without advising the insurer can result in NO professional liability insurance coverage at all.

In addition, NASW publishes a brochure, “Retiring or Closing a Private Practice” which may be obtained from NASW’s Information Center, 800-638-8799. This brochure offers a number of tips and serves as a good starting point for planning a retirement.

Do you have a question you would like to see addressed in the Tip of the Month, or wish we would address a previous Tip in more detail? We welcome your ideas! Please email suggestions to asi@naswasi.org (include “Tip Idea” in the email title). A new topic will be profiled each month.

Published March 2014

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