The Oregonian reports that a Beaverton nurse was allowed to continue working with patients while under investigation for sexual misconduct on the job and allegedly committed a similar offense during that time. The incident, if the facts are as reported, raises serious questions about how the nurse’s employer, Kaiser Permanente, deals with abuse allegations among its employees. The result is a case which concerns both hospital malpractice and sexual assault.
According to the newspaper the 37-year-old North Plains man was indicted earlier this month “on one count of first-degree criminal mistreatment, three counts of invasion of personal privacy, two counts of computer crime and four counts of third-degree sex abuse, police said. The charges relate to three alleged victims, but detectives have identified two more and are investigating their claims.”
The claim that the man was allowed to keep working is particularly striking when one considers how quickly the case has moved. Far from being something that has dragged on for many months or years, The Oregonian reports that “police first started investigating (the nurse) on Jan. 28 after a woman reported that he made sexual statements to her and sexually touched her during a visit to the Beaverton clinic two days earlier.” In other words, this case has gone from initial allegations to a wide-ranging indictment in about nine weeks – a case of the criminal justice system moving fairly quickly. Despite that, however, it is hard to imagine another workplace context where an employer would regard it as OK to keep an employee accused of sexual assault in a position to recommit the alleged offenses.
The idea that the man would be allowed to keep treating patients throughout this period – particularly female patients considering the nature of the allegations against him – is astonishing and raises significant legal questions for Kaiser Permanente. One must ask whether the company and the nurse’s managers acted responsibly in allowing the defendant to continue his normal duties under the circumstances. This lack of care for patients and, indeed for fellow employees, leaves Kaiser open to potential misconduct charges of its own. As an employer Kaiser is responsible for the actions of its employees and has an obligation to protect its patients (and other employees) from known hazards. Leaving an alleged sexual abuser in a position to commit further offenses while under investigation is irresponsible by any legal standard.
As an Oregon attorney focused on cases of hospital malpractice this is a case I will be paying close attention to in the coming weeks and months. All of us place great trust in doctors, nurses and administrators every time we walk through the doors of a hospital or clinic. That trust, in turn, needs to be honored with careful attention to patient safety and well-being. This obviously includes taking appropriate care in administering actual treatment, but it goes far beyond that. Health care companies have a special responsibility to ensure that they are taking proper care in the hiring and supervision of every employee or contractor and must be held accountable when they fail to do so. The fact that police are already widening their investigation hints that there may be more revelations to come (according to The Oregonian the defendant has been a licensed nurse since 2009).