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Occupational therapist 'fails to maintain professional boundaries'

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Deputy Health and Disability Commissioner Vanessa Caldwell today released a report finding an occupational therapist in breach of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights (the Code) for failing to maintain professional boundaries.

When a man in his thirties sustained a brain injury at work, he suffered from depression, lacked self-confidence, and was unable to work.

The man was referred by ACC to a rehabilitation service for a 12-week Training for Independence programme, including occupational therapy to help him navigate a return to work, and develop resilience and coping mechanisms.

A registered occupational therapist was assigned to help the man. However, within the first few weeks of the programme, the occupational therapist and the man began exchanging personal and intimate text messages.

The communication between the occupational therapist and the man escalated, and the relationship developed into physical contact that occurred during appointments. The relationship ended after the 12-week programme finished. The relationship was later discovered by a colleague of the occupational therapist.

The Deputy Commissioner considered that the occupational therapist failed to comply with professional, ethical and other relevant standards.

"The maintenance of professional boundaries is an integral part of the provision of health services," said Dr Caldwell.

"The difficulties the man was facing, as well as physical and mental health concerns, increased his vulnerability."

"By sending inappropriate text message communications, entering into an intimate relationship, and engaging in physical sexual contact with the man, the occupational therapist failed to maintain appropriate professional boundaries set out in the rehabilitation service Code of Conduct and the Occupational Therapy Board of New Zealand’s Code of Ethics and Professional Boundaries Guide," she said.

Dr Caldwell recommended that the occupational therapist undertake further training relating to the management of boundaries, and reapply for her annual practising certificate. She also recommended the occupational therapist provide a written apology to the man.

She recommended that the Occupational Therapy Board consider whether the occupational therapist should undertake a competency review and further training should she register for an annual practising certificate.

The full report for case 20HDC00895 is available on the HDC website.

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