Lawrence Smith / Stuff
Their first face-to-face meeting was on the school grounds. (File photo)
A mental health nurse broke professional boundaries by sending suggestive messages to a ‘vulnerable’ teenager, a health watchdog has found.
A report by the Health and Disability Commissioner, released on Monday, said the nurse, known as RN B, breached the Health and Disability Consumer Rights Code for failing to maintain boundaries professional and ethical.
In May 2019, the teenager known as Mr A, was referred by his high school guidance counselor to an area mental health service, after expressing suicidal thoughts.
After being diagnosed with depression, Mr A was referred to the Child and Youth Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
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In July 2019, RN B, was assigned as MA’s lead responder. Their first face-to-face meeting was on school grounds.
RN B, had several meetings with Mr A over a period of eight months, until he was removed from his post in April 2020.
That same month, RN B sent Mr. A a Facebook message asking how he was doing. The message began with “Hey muscly” and included a “wink” emoticon.
Then, speaking of breakfast, the nurse asked for a picture of the teenager in pajamas.
When the teenager told him he was going for a run, the RN B said: “You just have to imagine what [yo]you look like [you’re] running,” along with another “flashing face” emoticon.
RN B then asks for a photo of Mr A in racing gear.
“Ooo would like [see you] run now if [you’re] just in shorts lol.
Mr A did not send the photograph and told RN B he was asking too much.
In November, Mr A raised concerns with his mother about the messages and she contacted the chief executive of the mental health department.
On the same day, staff from the mental health service met with RN B and he was relieved of his duties with full pay.
RN B told the mental health service that he had no intention of having sex with Mr A, but rather was looking for friends.
Assistant Commissioner Dr Vanessa Caldwell said the nurse sent inappropriate messages to the teenager.
“I consider that the nurse violated professional boundaries and ethical standards by initiating contact with the young man outside of a professional setting and by sending messages of a personal nature.”
She said RN B knew that Mr. A was vulnerable due to his age and mental health.
Caldwell recommended that the nurse undertake additional training on identifying and maintaining professional boundaries, and that the New Zealand Nursing Council review her fitness to practice.
She also referred RN B to the Director of Proceedings to decide whether to initiate further proceedings.
The mental health department would also audit past RN B cases to ensure professional boundaries were maintained with other patients.
“The potential harm to a vulnerable young person from the nurse-initiated behavior was significant and it is in the public interest to ensure that such risk is minimized,” Caldwell said.