The sentencing this week of a former Kaiser Permanente nurse on charges of sexually abusing five women under his care should remind us all of the responsibilities hospitals, nursing homes, other care facilities and their staffs have toward their patients.
According to The Oregonian the 38-year-old man “pleaded guilty in Washington County Circuit Court to attempted second-degree kidnapping, second-degree invasion of personal privacy, third-degree sexual abuse and computer crime.” He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and will be required to register as a sex offender.
The newspaper notes, however, that in addition to the criminal phase of the trial, which is now over, two of the man’s victims “have since filed suit against Kaiser Permanente – where he worked for two years – alleging negligence by the medical company and sexual abuse and exploitation.” These charges are both significant and serious. Hospitals, nursing homes and other care facilities have an obligation to ensure that their staff are interacting with patients in a proper manner, and to report any suspected abuse immediately (see the Oregon Department of Justice and Oregon Department of Human Services links below for more information).
More importantly, as the Department of Human Services notes, “Oregon state law mandates that workers in certain professions must make reports if they have reasonable cause to suspect abuse or neglect. These people are called Mandatory Reporters.” As the website goes on to detail, under ORS 419B.005 (3) the list of people in that category includes physicians, nurses and pharmacists – in other words, the colleagues of anyone committing such acts. The Oregonian reports that the man sentenced this week “had been registered with the Oregon State Board of Nursing since 2009 and a licensed practical nurse since November 2010, according to state records.” It is reasonable to ask whether the incidents for which he was convicted, all of which took place last year, are the only ones in his history. It is also reasonable to ask whether his employers and colleagues met their obligations as mandatory reporters over the course of the man’s career in the health-care industry.
As a Portland attorney with experience in cases involving medical and nursing home abuse and neglect I will be paying close attention to the suit against Kaiser mentioned by the newspaper. The Oregonian reports that the man “used his position as a nurse to persuade female patients to undergo unnecessary tests” which often involved disrobing and inappropriate touching. He also used the facility’s medical records to obtain one patient’s home telephone number – an action that would seem to violate federal laws against the inappropriate use of medical records.
Above all, this case is a reminder of the great degree of trust all of us place in medical providers and caregivers and the responsibility – both legal and moral – that places on them. It is also a reminder of the ease with which that trust can be abused.
The Oregonian: Kaiser nurse gets prison for sexually abusing 5 patients
Oregon Department of Human Services: Reporting Neglect & Abuse
Oregon Department of Justice: Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Rights and Abuse Prevention