Maryland Medical Board Suspends Psychiatrist Robert Schnitzlein for Sex with Patient

July 25, 2020

On May 20, 2020, The Maryland State Board of Physicians reprimanded psychiatrist Robert Schnitzlein and suspended his license for a minimum period of one year, having been found guilty by the Board of immoral and unprofessional conduct, and that he engaged in sexual misconduct involving a patient.

The following information is taken directly from the Board’s document in the matter:

“On or about June 10, 2019, the Board received a complaint from a clinical psychologist (the ‘Psychologist’) who reported that a patient of hers (the ‘Patient’) had discussed an intimate relationship between the Patient and the Schnitzlein, which occurred soon after Schnitzlein had treated the Patient at the Hospital for serious mental health issues. In the complaint, the Psychologist described text messages she reviewed between the Patient and the Schnitzlein. These messages included some that discussed meeting at a nearby hotel where the Schnitzlein was staying. The Psychologist said that based on her conversations with the Patient, the Patient met Schnitzlein multiple times at the hotel for "treatment, swimming, conversation and sex."

“On or about July 19,2019, the Board received a complaint from the Patient who alleged having a personal relationship with Schnitzlein after he had treated her while she was admitted to the Hospital. The Patient said that Schnitzlein suggested that they exchange personal cell phone numbers so they could communicate after she was discharged. The Patient described various encounters that she had with Schnitzlein after she was discharged, including at the hotel where the Schnitzlein was staying. During these encounters, according to the Patient, Schnitzlein and her swam in the hotel pool, kissed in an outside whirlpool, and engaged in multiple sex acts in Schnitzlein’s hotel room. The Patient also explained that as she recovered, she “understood the gravity of Schnitzlein’s behavior." She explained that she began to have negative flashbacks to her encounters with Schnitzlein, which prompted her to discuss with the Psychologist her relationship with him.

“The Board initiated an investigation into Schnitzlein upon receiving the Psychologist's complaint.

“On or about July 12, 2019, as part of its investigation, Board staff interviewed the Psychologist under oath.

“The Psychologist said that she began treating the Patient after the Patient was discharged from the Hospital. On or about June 7, 2019, the Psychologist observed that the Patient was ‘quite distressed.’ The Patient first revealed during that session that she had been involved in an intimate relationship with Schnitzlein, her treating psychiatrist while she was in the Hospital. The Psychologist confirmed and reiterated the description of the relationship that she provided in her complaint to the Board.

“The Psychologist explained that the Patient expressed guilt for not resisting the relationship with Schnitzlein and questioned whether she should blame herse1ffor the relationship. The Psychologist described the Patient as ‘incredibly vulnerable’ and ‘not in a position to make a decision as to whether this was a good relationship or not.’

“The Psychologist stated that after the Patient explained her relationship with Schnitzlein, the Psychologist attempted to arrange for her patients who needed inpatient psychiatric admissions to go to facilities other than the Hospital so that they would not be ‘exposed to Schnitzlein.’

“As part of its investigation, the Board obtained text messages between the Patient and Schnitzlein that they exchanged from on or about January 23, 2019, to on or about May 20,2019. The text messages included, among other things, the Patient's assurance that she would remain ‘confidential’ to ‘protect both of our licenses always.’ The messages went on to include references to sadomasochism and the Schnitzlein 's interest in engaging in it, though he told the Patient he had ‘not had a partner willing.’ On one occasion the Patient and Schnitzlein exchanged heart emojis. On or about February 27, 2019, the Patient and the Schnitzlein began exchanging messages that included plans to meet in person ‘for a swim,’ among other things. At one point, Schnitzlein asked the Patient to delete the text messages that they had sent each other. In another exchange of messages, the Patient wrote that ‘swimming and a meal’ were not necessary every time they met in person, and that ‘Low key Late night [sic] sleeping/snuggling is just fine too.’ Schnitzlein replied, ‘I have the same assumptions.’ The Patient and Schnitzlein later exchanged messages setting up times for ‘a warm bath’ and ‘another evening bath’ together. The Patient last wrote to Schnitzlein on or about May 13, 2019. Schnitzlein wrote "Hi" to the Patient on or about May 20, 2019, but the Patient did not respond.

“As part of its investigation, Board staff interviewed the Patient under oath on or about August 19, 2019.

“During the interview, the Patient explained that Schnitzlein was her treating psychiatrist while she was admitted to the Hospital. The Patient said that, at the time, she felt ‘lucky’ to have Schnitzlein as her psychiatrist because, in her view, he ‘alluded to [the Patient] as being sort of a special patient.’ Schnitzlein offered to exchange personal cell phone munbers just before she was discharged from the Hospital so that the Patient could update him on her status. The Patient agreed because she thought this provided her "a beeline to a doctor who's been there for me."

“The Patient explained that she first sent a message to Schnitzlein a few days after being discharged from the Hospital. She said that the two communicated by text message every few days. Eventually, according to the Patient, Schnitzlein asked to see the Patient in person at the Hospital.

“The Patient described the first in-person meeting with Schnitzlein after being discharged as ‘a lot about him’ and not about the Patient. Schnitzlein asked to continue that conversation and suggested a restaurant at a nearby hotel. The Patient agreed, ‘thinking it would be nice to have a meal [and] a nice conversation.' The Patient learned that Schnitzlein lived at that hotel during the week. Afterwards, Schnitzlein invited the Patient to return to the hotel on a different day ‘and enjoy the amenities.’

“The Patient said that she returned to the hotel and initially went swimming in the hotel pool with Schnitzlein, but he ‘continually cajoled me up to his room.’ She explained that there were ‘no boundaries’ between them. The Patient said that she and Schnitzlein first kissed in the hotel whirlpool, and ‘that's all it was ... kissing in the hot tub until his bedroom.’ She explained that by the third time she met Schnitzlein at the hotel, she went to his room. During one encounter in Schnitzlein's room, he suggested that they should ‘get naked and just see what happens.’ The Patient agreed. She said that she and Schnitzlein undressed completely and got into his bed together and engaged in sexual activity.

“The Patient said that over the next several weeks, she and Schnitzlein ‘took two baths together’ and engaged in various sexual activities in his hotel room.

“On or about August 27,2019, the Patient told the Board that the Schnitzlein had recently called her from a blocked number and left a series of voicemails. The Board obtained recordings of six voicemails that the Schnitzlein left for the Patient on or about August 26, 2019, between approximately 11 :29 a.m. and 11 :46 a.m.

“The voicemail recordings included the following information:

“a. At approximately 11 :29 a.m., Schnitzlein left a voicemail for the Patient saying, among other things, ‘I want to be totally responsible ... I deeply, deeply care. I know you do. And I know I was weak and in a bad place myself, but I wasn't I wasn't looking to hurt you at all, ever. And I still do; still care a lot. More than care. And I can't deny that ....’

“b. At approximately 11 :32 a.m., Schnitzlein left a voicemail for the Patient saying, among other things, ‘This is a—was a novel, life-changing experience that I don't want to remember in a different way. I want to find a solution, a creative solution, between you and I in a way that works for both of us and not have it forced upon us through insurance or legal or destroying the option of me working again ... We can do this if you give us a chance ... Help. Please help us ....’

“c. At approximately 11 :35 a.m., Schnitzlein left a voicemail for the Patient saying, among other things, ‘I am wanting to connect with you because I need to ... And I wanted to continue to talk to you. And on a deep level, I miss you, and I have for a long time.’

“d. At approximately 11:37 a.m., Schnitzlein left a voicemail for the Patient saying, among other things, ‘Maybe I'm crazy, but that's what feelings are about. I know I was vulnerable, too, and that's my fault. And I take responsibility for that and do whatever I need to do to get stronger ... I am responsible for my actions in every sense of the word. And I want to make it right with you. Please, please ....’

“e. At approximately 11 :42 a.m., Schnitzlein left a voicemail for the Patient saying, among other things, ‘Hey, I'm not the enemy. But if you go this route I won't be able to see or talk to you again. And I can't deal with that ... [If] there's any healing to be had, it's going to be between us. And I'm totally willing to do that. All job aside, all career aside, all everything aside ... So I – I want to see you really bad ... Help me help you and help us ... Please don't beat – beat us up."

“f. At approximately 11 :46 a.m., Schnitzlein left a voicemail for the Patient saying, among other things, ‘Sorry to leave all these voicemails ... I'm really hoping that I get a chance to talk to you. No matter what ... If there's some things that you have to do, I want to understand ... I want to understand about what I don't know. Thanks.’

“As part of its investigation, the Board obtained phone records for the Patient and Schnitzlein. These records show that on or about August 26,2019, Schnitzlein called the Patient approximately nine times within 20 minutes and used "Calling Number Identity Restriction" so that the Patient could not see the number that was calling her.

“As part of its investigation, Board staff interviewed Schnitzlein under oath on or about November 25, 2019. Schnitzlein 's attorney was present.

“During the interview, the following exchange occurred when Board staff asked Schnitzlein about his relationship with the Patient:

[Board Staff]: Can you just describe in detail the nature of your relationship with her?

[Schnitzlein]: I can't. I don't remember.

[Board Staff]: What don't you remember? ...

[Schnitzlein]: Anything.

[Board Staff]: So you don't remember treating her as a patient?

[Schnitzlein]: Not to the level of certainty ... that would allow me to say it's a fact.

[Board Staff]: So these notes ... that you provided to the Board in writing, were those notes that you recalled or are those contemporaneous notes from when you were treating her?

[Schnitzlein]: Not sure. I think they're contemporaneous, but my memory is wiped.

“The Schnitzlein repeatedly said during the interview that he could not recall details about his treatment or personal contact with the Patient after she was discharged. When shown copies of specific text messages, including an exchange of heart emojis and references to baths, Schnitzlein answered, ‘Good question; don't know.’ When asked to discuss any intimate contact with the Patient, Schnitzlein answered, ‘I can't because it's wiped from my memory.’

He later described his memory loss about his relationship with the Patient as follows: ‘I can't see or feel or remember the experience, but I'm left with these symptoms that point to an experience and I can't say what the experience is.’

“When asked about exchanging text messages that may have had sexual innuendos, Schnitzlein said that ‘anything's open game in therapy, you could talk about anything, that is the safety about therapy, is that's a safe place to discuss anything.’ He said that he would have sent such messages to the Patient for ‘her therapy.’

Schnitzlein acknowledged calling the Patient in August 2019 and leaving voicemails, but he could not recall what he said.

In addition to the suspension and reprimand, Schnitzlein was ordered to pay a $15,000 civil fine to the Board and other conditions which he must fulfill.  

Source: Consent Order in the Matter of Robert Schnitzlein, M.D., License Number D62487, Maryland State Board of Physicians, Case Number 2219-0202B, May 20, 2020.


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