Protecting your livelihood as a regulated health professional – dealing effectively with complaints and investigations
In Ontario, health professionals are heavily regulated by Health Regulatory Colleges. Each health profession is overseen by its own College. For example, opticians are regulated by the College of Opticians of Ontario and pharmacists are governed by the Ontario College of Pharmacists. All Colleges have designated Committees – including an Inquiries, Complaints, and Reports Committee (formerly known as the “Complaints Committee”) and a Discipline Committee.
If you are a regulated health professional, (such as a chiropractor, optician, optometrist, massage therapist, pharmacist, psychotherapist, audiologist, dental hygienist, chiropractor, or physiotherapist), a complaint can derail your career. This is why it is so important to properly address a complaint.
The Initial Complaint
The Inquiries, Complaints, and Reports Committee of your College must review all complaints made against you and it can pursue investigations of them. If a complaint is not resolved at this stage, your matter will be referred to the Discipline Committee. The Discipline Committee has broad powers, including the power to revoke your certificate of registration, place you under suspension, reprimand you, and fine you.
The only way to prevent a complaint from becoming a disciplinary matter is to resolve it early before it is referred to the Disciplinary Committee. You will be given an opportunity to respond to a complaint in writing. The goal at this juncture is to prevent the complaint from going any further. Obtain the assistance of a professional discipline lawyer who understands what should and should not be included in your written response to maximize your chances of early resolution. If a College investigator requests an interview, consult with a lawyer before you provide the investigator with any information.
The Discipline Stage
Unfortunately, some complaints cannot be resolved at the initial complaint stage and wind up before the Disciplinary Committee, usually for a hearing. A disciplinary hearing is similar to a court proceeding and results in a public decision. At the disciplinary stage, it is imperative to obtain experienced counsel to represent you and protect your livelihood.
If your disciplinary matter relates to a potential or past criminal offence, obtain the assistance of a lawyer experienced in both criminal law and professional discipline. A lawyer experienced in both areas will understand how to protect you during criminal and professional proceedings.
Some disciplinary matters result in catastrophic consequences for health professionals such as the loss of the ability to practice one’s profession, exorbitant fines, and lengthy suspensions. If you find yourself facing unacceptable consequences, seek out an experienced appellate lawyer who understands how to craft compelling legal arguments and who can effectively advocate on your behalf.
Mindy Caterina, BA, JD – Toronto Professional Discipline & Criminal Defence Lawyer