Health officials working to speed up resolution process for sexual misconduct complaints against Washington health care providers

Washington health officials are working to establish processes that would help lead to quicker resolutions of sexual misconduct complaints against health care providers.

 

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The state’s Department of Health (DOH) is implementing recommendations to expedite its processes for investigating sexual misconduct cases, while working with partner agencies on actions they can take to improve the process.

In December 2021, DOH Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah convened a task force to address the issue, and members met several times over the past year to develop recommendations to improve the disciplinary process for sexual misconduct cases. Some recommendations include enhancing management oversight practices, establishing shorter timelines to complete certain parts of the process, enhancing capacity for boards and commissions, updating rules, exploring options to suspend providers during legal processes, and exploring possible statutory changes.

“Patient safety is a critical priority for the department and for Washingtonians,” Shah said in a statement. “Everyone is entitled to due process, and we’re committed to conducting investigations to arrive at the correct decision, but we can and must do better to complete those investigations in a timely manner and in a way that earns the confidence of all Washingtonians.”

The task force was created in response to an analysis of timelines over the past 5 years that revealed that DOH, profession-specific boards and commissions, and the Office of the Attorney General took an average of 332 days to resolve sexual misconduct complaints, while a subset of cases that went to adjudication took significantly longer. 

The disciplinary process for sexual misconduct complaints has 5 major components:

  • Complaint intake and assessment
  • Investigation
  • Case disposition/legal action
  • Adjudication
  • Compliance

Several factors during complaint intake, investigation, legal action, and adjudication can contribute to a case being delayed, according to the report. The DOH, boards, and commissions processed 35,128 total complaints from 2019-2021, investigated 8,349 of those, and took 1,827 disciplinary actions. 

A Seattle Times investigation conducted last year revealed delays in disciplining providers for sexual misconduct. The publication reviewed 628 sexual misconduct cases since 2009, and discovered that 45% of them took longer than a year to discipline a provider, while 10% took more than 2 years.

Many of the task force’s recommendations would require new resources to be successfully implemented. DOH has also identified some staffing increases that would benefit disciplinary operations. The department plans to create reform timelines by next June.