Family Matters

For some professions, such as nursing, professionals are strongly discouraged from involving themselves in the care of family members is because it is difficult to remain objective. In Hancock v College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba, 2021 MBCA 20 (CanLII), a nurse was disciplined and suspended for two months for this type of conduct. The nurse, despite being warned not to become involved, intervened in the care of her mother-in-law, including by communicating with a treating physician and accessing the mother-in-law’s records. The hearing panel found that this involvement crossed professional boundaries and failed to respect the privacy of health records.

In upholding the sanction, the Court said:

The Panel’s determination that the appellant lacked insight is reasonably supported by the record. The appellant’s lack of insight and failure to accept responsibility distinguishes this case from other cases involving breaches of professional boundaries. The misconduct was serious. It was intentional and involved repeated intrusions into H.L.’s medical record which continued until the conduct was discovered, rather than being a momentary lapse. While the circumstances here are unique in the sense that they involve a family member’s medical record accessed with good intentions and after-the-fact consent, the College’s policy prohibiting this conduct is clear. The College’s policy regarding professional boundaries is intended to prevent conflicts involving a nurse’s personal and professional interests in order to ensure client safety.

The appeal involved a number of other legal issues that may be relevant to other regulators, including the following findings:

  • There was no undue delay, especially when considering that significant portions of the delay were caused by the nurse of the nurse’s representatives.
  • Oral reasons recorded in a transcript can meet the requirement for giving reasons for hearing motions.
  • Procedural fairness requirements during the investigation and screening stage are less than at the hearing stage and any deficiencies can often be cured by a fair discipline hearing.

This case shows that crossing boundaries and breaching privacy of client records can result in significant consequences, despite the best of intentions.

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