CRNBC on July 11, 2017, suspended Ms. Jean Cunningham of Port Coquitlam for a minimum three months, and fined her $8,027.75, after a Panel of the Discipline Committee determined she had committed unprofessional conduct within the meaning of s. 39(1)(c) of the
Health Professions Act by failing to respond to numerous and repeated communications from CRNBC concerning a complaint against her.
CRNBC in April 2016 received a complaint against Ms. Cunningham, and the Registrar, through staff, began a preliminary investigation. On June 16, 2016, the College sent Ms. Cunningham a copy of the complaint together with a letter requesting a response by July 21, 2016. The College received no response. A second letter sent Aug. 12, 2016, did not receive a response. This non-responsiveness to the complaint made the matter more serious and as such the complaint was referred to the Inquiry Committee, which accepted the matter for investigation on Sept. 8, 2016.
A CRNBC investigator reached Ms. Cunningham by telephone on Sept. 13, 2016 to determine whether she would be retaining counsel. Ms. Cunningham advised that she would contact the investigator within a week as to whether she would be retaining counsel. She did not contact the investigator within a week. The investigator telephoned Ms. Cunningham, who had no voicemail capability, on numerous occasions, to no avail.
Additional efforts to contact the registrant, including an email sent Oct. 5, 2016 and letters sent Sept. 23, 2016, and Nov. 7, 2016, went unanswered. The Inquiry Committee issued a citation for a hearing into Ms. Cunningham’s failure to cooperate with CRNBC.
A Panel of the Discipline Committee met Jan. 9, 2017, to conduct a hearing into Ms. Cunningham’s conduct. Ms. Cunningham was given advance notice but did not attend the hearing.
College counsel submitted that case law establishes the principle that registrants of a regulated profession have a duty to cooperate with their governing body, including a duty to reply to communications from the regulator, and that a failure to do so amounts to unprofessional conduct.
The rationale behind this principle is that a governing body must be able to rely on the cooperation of registrants to effectively regulate the profession. Accordingly, the College may require that registrants respond to correspondence so that the College may address complaints. The College’s authority to require prompt responses to a complaint is foundational to upholding public confidence and carrying out our duty to protect the public.
The Panel unanimously determined, pursuant to s. 39(1 )(c) of the Health Professions Act, that Ms. Cunningham committed "unprofessional conduct" by failing to respond to multiple communications from the College.
The Panel re-convened on May 31, 2017, to hold a penalty hearing so that it could hear evidence and submissions on penalty, costs and public notice. This hearing followed the earlier determination by the Panel that Ms. Cunningham engaged in unprofessional conduct by failing to respond to communications from the Inquiry Committee. These reasons adopt the terms that the Panel used in its earlier reasons on verdict.
The College presented evidence, including a registered letter signed for by Ms. Cunningham, that Ms. Cunningham received the verdict decision of the Panel on Feb. 7, 2017. She was also given adequate advance notice of the second hearing. The Panel accepted that Ms. Cunningham received the materials sent to her, including notice of the date, time and place of the penalty hearing; notice of her opportunity to provide mitigating evidence; and notice of penalty that the College would be proposing. The Panel also accepted that the Respondent received a draft of the College's written submissions.
Counsel submitted that the penalty should demonstrate to the profession the seriousness with which the College treats the duty to cooperate. The Discipline Committee made the following orders:
CRNBC registrants are reminded they have a professional obligation to respond to communications from the College in a timely manner. Failure to do so can result in serious consequences.