Fatality raised more questions about Kimberly Even's credentials as drug counselor
No criminal law in Illinois prevents someone from claiming to be a certified drug counselor
Christine Beh's son Chase died of a heroin overdose in 2009 after receiving care from someone whose drug counseling credentials are being investigated. (Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune)
He died in 2009 of a heroin overdose while being counseled by Kimberly Even — a woman who had been warned to stop claiming she was a certified counselor by the professional organization that sets the standards for drug counselors, records show. The state also was investigating her credentials at the time of the death.
After Beh's overdose, Even continued counseling young people in her North Shore clinic, according to a certified counselor who worked there and reported her to the state. The clinic was eventually shuttered by state officials.
Experts say the case highlights the difficulty of protecting patients in a system that relies on consumer complaints to detect impostors and gives little power to state agencies to prevent counselors from misrepresenting themselves. It's a crime to practice medicine without a license, but no criminal law in Illinois prevents someone from claiming to be a certified drug counselor.
Beh's mother, Christine, is among those who say such a law is needed.
She only recently learned that her son was treated by a counselor who allegedly was uncertified. She questions why no one stopped Even, who now faces theft and forgery charges in three communities.
A Cook County grand jury in November indicted Even, 47, of Glencoe, for allegedly depositing insurance company checks made out to a client's father. Arraigned last month, she remains jailed on $75,000 bail.
"I can't imagine how she could have been in practice and no one looked into her credentials," Christine Beh said in an interview. "I think what she did was unconscionable. It's a betrayal that I just think is unbelievable."
Christine Beh may have been in the dark about Even's credentials, but the counselor had already landed on the radar of a state agency and the private organization that coordinates the certification of drug counselors.
In May 2009, four months before Chase Beh died, that organization determined Even lacked the "good moral character" to receive certification, suspended her from reapplying for three years and required her to complete ethics training before it would reconsider her, according to records.
In October 2009, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation completed a yearlong review by fining her $10,000 for "unlicensed practice of social work," records show. The state Department of Human Services revoked her business license in December 2010, shutting down her North Shore Adolescent Recovery Center in Northfield.
But Even never stopped identifying herself as either a certified alcohol and drug counselor or a licensed clinical social worker, officials allege.
"She just keeps resurfacing," said Michael Durr, an attorney for the Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Professional Certification Association, the organization that oversees counselors.
His agency thought Even stopped practicing in February 2010, when a Sangamon County judge ordered her not to represent herself as a certified alcohol and drug counselor.
But as recently as the fall, Even ran into trouble with police over allegations related to her counseling.
She was arrested Oct. 11 by Glencoe police and charged in Cook County with forgery, related to $16,600 in insurance checks made out to a Fox River Grove client that Even allegedly deposited in her Glencoe bank account. She also faces a misdemeanor theft charge in McHenry County in that incident.
The Glencoe forgery charge prompted Durr to seek a criminal contempt complaint against Even for violating the February 2010 injunction against misrepresenting herself. That case is pending in Sangamon County.
A criminal charge, had it been possible under state law, might have resulted in quicker action, said Jessica Hayes, executive director of the Illinois Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Professional Certification Association.
"Once we found out, we did all we could do legally," Hayes said.
Even has been jailed since her arrest and could not be reached for comment. Her husband, standing outside the Skokie courtroom at a recent hearing, declined to comment.
Her attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, said after a court appearance that Even had been working as a drug counselor and social worker for years, but he could not confirm whether she was certified or licensed for either position.
"That I do not know," he said.
Sorosky said Even had permission to deposit the insurance checks made out to the father of her Fox River Grove client. "I'm sure the father maintains she didn't," he said.
Meanwhile, Even also is wanted on a felony charge that alleges she possessed a credit card without permission that belonged to a company she worked for in Utah, according to authorities.
Glencoe Detective Jon Harlow said that charge resulted from Even's involvement with the same Fox River Grove client she allegedly stole insurance checks from. Harlow said Even accompanied the client to a Utah drug treatment center.
Caring for Chase
Chase Beh had just turned 20 when he was referred to Even's Northfield clinic by Evanston Hospital in the spring of 2009, according to his mother. The hospital denied that it specifically directed the Beh family to Even. But at the time, Even's clinic was still listed on a government website linked to by the hospital.
That site, run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, removed its reference to Even's clinic in October, after inquiries from the Tribune.
A 2007 New Trier High School graduate, Chase Beh was attending classes at Oakton Community College. He had fought kidney disease since he was a toddler, receiving a transplant in 2004 from his older brother.
That transplant failed, which his mother said contributed to Beh's attempts to "self-medicate" with illegal drugs — on top of a cocktail of medicines prescribed by his doctors.
Chase Beh saw Even twice a week to combat his cocaine and marijuana use, his mother said.
"She was a major part of his treatment," his mother said.
Frank Ponziano was the other counselor at Even's North Shore Adolescent Recovery Center. He recalled having disagreements with Even about clients — Chase Beh in particular, who Ponziano thought needed "high-level treatment."
Even "told me and the clients that she was a drug counselor and a master's level social worker with a degree," said Ponziano, who does hold an alcohol and drug counselor certification.
Because of his medical history, as well as dangerous behavioral issues, including a DUI arrest, Chase Beh should have been in a care facility, Ponziano said.
"He needed a higher level of care, like detox or a halfway house," Ponziano said.
After Chase Beh's death, Ponziano began checking his employer's credentials. In November 2009, two months after the death, Ponziano filed a complaint against Even with the Illinois Department of Human Services' Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. When Even found out, she fired him, Ponziano said.
That complaint led the state to close her clinic. During visits to the clinic, the Department of Human Services "found numerous rules violations, including the one that they didn't have a medical director," which is required by law, spokeswoman Januari Smith said. The department also determined Even had misrepresented her credentials and forged documents, Smith said.
Durr said it's difficult to locate and stop someone claiming to be a certified counselor. The association relies on consumers and other practitioners to file complaints or raise questions.
"Once you inform us of what's going on, we're going to take action," Durr said. Patients can check their counselor's credentials on the association's website at iaodapca.org.
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation operates similarly, according to a spokeswoman.
No one knows exactly how many clients Even had or how much money she has received, Durr said.
"Those questions are unanswered. And (they are) things we may try to get to in Springfield," he said, referring to the complaint pending in Sangamon County.