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Professional Conduct reports – December 2023

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December Messenger 2023, Discipline Decisions | Posted December 14, 2023
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Dr. Ricardo Sarria sanctioned for crossing boundaries with patient

Dr. Ricardo Sarria, a general practitioner from Edmonton, was sanctioned by a CPSA Hearing Tribunal for inappropriate behaviour with a patient.

Background

Dr. Sarria was accused of failing to maintain an appropriate relationship with his patient (who was 17-18 years old at the time) during the period of November 2008 to May 2010, by kissing his patient and asking inappropriate questions unrelated to the patient’s medical care. A complaint was made to CPSA in 2020, at which time a condition was placed on Dr. Sarria’s practice permit, requiring a chaperone be in attendance for all encounters with female patients.

Dr. Sarria initially denied the allegations, but ultimately agreed to a no-contest agreement, meaning he did not admit to the conduct but agreed not to call evidence or dispute any put forward by CPSA. After reviewing the evidence, the Hearing Tribunal accepted the patient’s description of what occurred, found Dr. Sarria guilty of unprofessional conduct and accepted a joint submission on sanction, which included the following:

  • Sarria is suspended from practice for a period of six months, with three months held in abeyance unless CPSA receives a new complaint about Dr. Sarria’s conduct occurring after the date of the Tribunal’s decision.
  • At his own cost, Dr. Sarria must complete and unconditionally pass a course on ethics and boundaries.
  • The conditions currently in place on Dr. Sarria’s practice permit will remain.
  • Sarria is responsible for 75 per cent of the cost of the hearing and investigation.

As Dr. Sarria’s conduct occurred prior to the implementation of An Act to Protect Patients, mandatory sanctions under that legislation do not apply. The Hearing Tribunal’s decision can be reviewed in full on CPSA’s website.

 

Dr. Bradley Stewart sanctioned for inappropriate behaviour with patient

Edmonton neurologist Dr. Bradley Stewart was found guilty of unprofessional conduct by a CPSA Hearing Tribunal, for failing to maintain a professional relationship with a patient.

Background

Dr. Stewart was accused of violating appropriate boundaries between 2011 and 2013, which included sending a patient improper text messages and emails, and providing personal gifts. After initially receiving the complaint in 2016, CPSA placed conditions on Dr. Stewart’s practice permit requiring a chaperone for all clinical encounters with female patients (these conditions remain in place). The patient also contacted law enforcement and CPSA’s investigation was put on hold pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings—sexual assault charges against Dr. Stewart were dismissed in late 2021.

The Hearing Tribunal found Dr. Stewart’s conduct violated CPSA’s standards on sexual boundaries and that he was guilty of unprofessional conduct. While there was a joint submission for a six-month suspension of his practice permit, the Tribunal heard arguments from both parties on whether Dr. Stewart should be allowed to serve his suspension in two-week segments, separated by two-week segments in which he could practise. The Tribunal determined that the suspension should be served over six consecutive months and also ordered that:

  • The conditions currently in effect on Dr. Stewart’s practice permit will remain in place when he resumes practising.
  • Stewart is responsible for 75 per cent of the costs of the investigation and hearing.

As Dr. Stewart’s conduct occurred prior to the implementation of An Act to Protect Patients, mandatory sanctions under that legislation do not apply. The Hearing Tribunal’s decision can be reviewed in full on CPSA’s website.

Dr. Stewart was sanctioned by a different CPSA Hearing Tribunal in 2021, for failing to abide by the conditions on his practice permit that were a result of this complaint.

 

Learnings

Maintaining professional boundaries within the physician-patient relationship is an important and essential part of medical practice, due to the inherent power imbalance between healthcare practitioners and their patients. Violating those boundaries and engaging in a personal or sexual relationship with a patient is a clear breach of CPSA’s standards. We encourage all regulated members to review our standards on personal and sexual boundary violations, to ensure a full understanding of their expectations.

When a complaint is investigated and sanctions are determined, a physician’s conduct is assessed against the standards in place at the time of the incident. While a personal or sexual relationship with a patient has always been a clear boundary violation and a breach of CPSA’s standards, if the conduct occurred prior to April 1, 2019 and the implementation of An Act to Protect Patients (which it did in the cases above), it will be assessed against previous legislation, which did not include mandatory sanctions for boundary violations.

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