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Melissa McLellan 0001784

Allegations and Plea 

The College alleged that the Member committed an act of professional misconduct in that she accessed the personal health information of about 5800 clients without consent or other authorization, when there was no professional purpose for doing so, in or about September 2005 to April 2011. The College alleged that this conduct would be regarded as disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional. 

The Member admitted the allegations, and admitted the conduct would be regarded as unprofessional. The College and the Member jointly submitted an agreement to the following facts. 

Agreed Facts 

The Member commenced employment as an RN at the Facility in November 1999. The Facility terminated the Member’s employment in May 2011 as a result of these incidents. 

In or about March 2011, an inpatient of the Acute Inpatient Psychiatric Unit of the Facility, who was also a staff member at the Facility, reported that a number of staff members had visited her in the Psychiatric unit even though she had not told them she was an inpatient. She was concerned that staff had determined she was an inpatient by reviewing her electronic health records. 

The Facility’s privacy officer conducted an audit, revealing that there had been a number of inappropriate access to the individual’s electronic health records by staff members of the Facility, including, but not limited to, the Member. With respect to the Member, the audit revealed that the Member had accessed the individual’s electronic health record and reviewed the individual’s visit history, laboratory and clinical records, as well as the dictated notes. 

When questioned by management, the Member admitted openly that, although she did not know the individual personally, she did access her electronic health records without consent or other authorization. The Member also stated that she routinely reviewed electronic health records for clients who were not under her care. The Member advised that she never shared any of the personal health information she reviewed. 

Following this disclosure, management conducted further audits. In or about August 2011, management produced a report indicating that the Member had allegedly accessed the personal health information of over 5000 clients of the Facility who were not under her care, without consent or other authorization, or any professional purpose, from August 2005 and April 2011. 

Finding

The Panel found that the facts supported a finding of professional misconduct as alleged. The Member only admits to unprofessional conduct as outlined in the agreed facts. The College did not ask for a finding that the conduct would also reasonably be regarded by members as disgraceful and/or dishonourable. Accordingly, the Panel found that the Member engaged in conduct that would reasonably be considered to be unprofessional.

Submissions on Order

The College and the Member sought an oral reprimand and a four-month suspension. The Member would also be required to complete specified remediation activities in preparation for a series of meetings with a nursing expert. For 18 months from the date she returns to nursing, the Member would be required to advise the College of her employers, provide employers with a copy of the Panel’s decision and reasons, and only practise for an employer who agreed to advise the College if she breached the standards of practice of the profession.

Panel Order

The Panel concluded that the proposed penalty is reasonable and in the public interest. The Member has co-operated with the College and, by agreeing to the facts and a proposed penalty, has accepted responsibility. The Panel finds that the penalty satisfies the principles of specific and general deterrence, rehabilitation and remediation, and public protection. In particular, the order of a four-month suspension provides a clear message to the profession that unauthorized access to client information is a serious act. It is the obligation of each nurse to protect client privacy.  

Page last reviewed March 20, 2017