Protection of Patients
Recent amendments to the Health Professions Act (HPA) have increased protections for patients by:
- standardizing the complaint response to sexual abuse and misconduct,
- providing clear definitions of sexual abuse and misconduct,
- requiring criminal record checks for all health professionals,
- mandating sexual abuse and misconduct training for members of health colleges,
- requiring trauma informed care training for college staff and hearing tribunal members, and
- ensuring that resources and supports are offered to patients who have been sexually abused by their health care providers.
Sexual abuse or sexual misconduct complaints could always be made, but they were considered “professional misconduct.” The changes to the HPA mean that sexual abuse and misconduct complaints will all be considered with the same set of rules. Victims will have better supports to help them through their trauma.
Sexual Abuse Definition
In the HPA, sexual abuse is defined as “the threatened, attempted, or actual conduct of a regulated member towards a patient that is of a sexual nature and includes any of the following conduct:
- Sexual intercourse between a patient and a regulated member;
- Genital to genital, genital to anal, oral to genital, or oral to anal contact between a regulated member and a patient;
- Masturbation of a regulated member by or in the presence of a patient;
- Masturbation of a regulated member’s patient;
- Encouraging a regulated member’s patient to masturbate;
- Touching of a sexual nature of a patient’s genitals, anus, breasts, or buttocks by a regulated member.
*Sexual nature does not include any conduct, behaviour, or remarks that are appropriate to the services provided.
If you feel you have been sexually abused by your health care provider, please reach out to their regulatory college. The ACAO regulates opticians, and will sensitively handle all complaints against opticians, including those of a sexual nature.
Sexual Misconduct Definition
In the HPA, sexual misconduct is defined as “any incident or repeated incidents of objectionable or unwelcome conduct, behaviour, or remarks of a sexual nature by a regulated member who knows or ought reasonably to know will or would cause offence or humiliation to the patient or adversely affect the patient’s health and well-being, but does not include sexual abuse.”
Some examples of sexual misconduct include:
- inappropriate jokes or slurs,
- inappropriate touching that is not included in the list of acts constituting sexual abuse,
- something inappropriate said to a patient by their health care provider,
- something inappropriate said by a health care provider, overheard by their patient, or
- suggestive body language
*This is not a complete list, but a few examples of what may constitute sexual misconduct.
If you feel that you have been subjected to sexual misconduct by your health care provider, please contact their regulatory college. The ACAO regulates opticians, and will sensitively handle all complaints against opticians, including those of a sexual nature.
Some of the biggest differences in the sexual abuse and misconduct complaints process are:
- The Complaints Director cannot dismiss the complaint without further investigation.
- A complaint of a sexual nature also triggers supports, such as funded counselling.
- Complaint status updates must be made every 60 days.
- Victims of sexual abuse and misconduct will be able to give a victim impact report describing how the abuse or misconduct has affected them.
- For findings of sexual abuse, the minimum sanction is immediate cancellation of the member’s license; they will no longer be allowed to practice as a health care provider in Alberta.
- For findings of sexual misconduct, the minimum sanction is a 1 year suspension of the member’s license; they will not be allowed to practice as an optician for at least 1 year.
- In cases where a license is cancelled in response to findings of sexual misconduct, the member will not be allowed to apply for reinstatement for a minimum of 5 years.
- All findings of sexual misconduct or abuse that are also criminal offences will be referred to the Attorney General’s office for possible prosecution in a criminal court.
The ACAO encourages all regulated members to take the free online courses related to sexual abuse and misconduct. Trauma Informed Care (TIC) training modules provided by Alberta Health Services offer a broad understanding about the long term effects of trauma, and why it’s important to consider trauma when giving patients care.
The college also offers a course explaining the professional boundaries standard of practice and a course created by the Alberta Federation of Regulated Health Professions (AFRHP) about the sexual abuse and misconduct legislation. These courses were designed to ensure that all opticians are up to date on the new laws and on how to ensure that their patients are receiving the best care possible.
The Professional Boundaries courses are accessible under the Courses section of our Member’s Continuing Education menu.
In addition to member education, the college staff and Hearing Tribunal are both required to complete Trauma Informed Care training. With this training, we will be better able to interact sensitively with abuse survivors; TIC training helps us understand abuse survivor behaviour in a fair and compassionate way. This training will ensure that if a complaint about sexual abuse or misconduct comes to the college, everyone will be able to help survivors feel safe as they report their abuse.
Take the first steps to healing trauma
If you have been sexually abused by a health care provider and are not ready to contact the college, we want to ensure that you still have access to help. There are sexual assault centres across Alberta with staff who are trained to help you in safe and compassionate environments.
Sexual abuse can also be reported to the police. If you have been sexually assaulted, you can contact your local victim services to investigate.
When you are ready to contact the college, we can provide you with access to funded counselling as needed. We can begin the investigation quickly to ensure the safety of you and other patients.
Please remember that reporting to the police and reporting to the college are not necessarily linked; the college may not hear about the abuse immediately if you don’t report it to us as well. If we don’t know, we can’t help; the optician would likely continue to practice until information comes to us that abuse has occurred.
To make a complaint about an optician, please contact the Complaints Administrator at the college office:
Calls and drop-in visits will be handled as sensitively and privately as possible; emails will come directly to the Complaints Administrator.