South Florida Hospital News
Sunday September 22, 2019
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October 2014 - Volume 11 - Issue 4

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Reports of Sexual Abuse1 or Inappropriate Touching by a Patient: What Should a Hospital Do?

Incidents such as the above are seldom encountered, but raise interesting issues for hospitals when they do, in fact, occur. Upon learning of such a complaint, risk management should immediately suspend the employee, pending investigation, and simultaneously notify law enforcement. Regardless of the complainant’s veracity or complaint’s believability, law enforcement should always be contacted. The agency will perform an independent investigation, which may later assist the hospital if a lawsuit is filed. The agency’s independent conclusions can be used to support the hospital’s ultimate course of action (either retaining the employee after an unfounded complaint or terminating the employee for a founded event).
 
If the patient is a “vulnerable adult2,” and hospital personnel (including risk management, human resources, nurses and physicians) have any reason to suspect sexual abuse, pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 415.1034, it must be immediately reported to Florida’s central abuse hotline, 1-800-96-ABUSE. Additionally, if the patient is being held under Florida’s Baker Act, hospital personnel are obligated by law (under Fla. Stat. § 394.4593) to notify the hotline and law enforcement. The bottom line: if a patient meeting the criteria makes an allegation, report it. It’s always better for multiple, independent agencies to investigate and draw conclusions that nothing happened, than for allegations of sexual abuse to go unreported and uninvestigated.
 
Additionally, the hospital, via risk management, should perform a thorough internal investigation, including interviewing the complainant, the employee, and any other potential witnesses, such as staff or physicians caring for the patient. Any prior complaints against the employee should be reviewed for potential patterns and considered when reaching a conclusion. Risk management should document the investigation and findings. If the investigation determines the complaint to be unfounded, the reasoning should be documented with specificity. If the allegations are established, the hospital should consider and take corrective action appropriate to the offense, including the possibility of termination.
 
In conclusion, utilizing these measures will keep the hospital in the good graces of regulatory authorities and a proper investigation will ultimately inure to the hospital’s benefit in the event of litigation.
Rebecca Jarratt Davis, Fann & Petruccelli, P.A., can be reached at (954) 771-4118 or rdavis@FPLawyers.com or visit www.FPLawyers.com.   Evagelia Solomos, Fann & Petruccelli, P.A., can be reached at (954) 771-4118 or esolomos@fplawyers.com.
 
1 Sexual abuse means acts of a sexual nature including fondling, exposure of sexual organs, or engaging in a sexual act. It does not include acts committed for valid medical purposes or the appropriate display of affection. Fla. Stat. §415.102(25).
 
2 Vulnerable adult “means a person 18 years of age or older whose ability to perform the normal activities of daily living or to provide for his or her own care or protection is impaired due to a mental, emotional, sensory, long-term physical, or developmental disability or dysfunction, or brain damage, or the infirmities of aging.” Fla. Stat. § 415.102(27).
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