Occupational therapist under fire for having sex with brain-damaged man she was helping rehabilitate

Occupational therapist under fire for having sex with brain-damaged man she was helping rehabilitate
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An occupational therapist is under fire for developing a relationship and having sex with a brain-damaged man who she was supposed to help rehabilitate.

The man, who is in his 30s, sustained a brain injury at work, suffers from depression, lacks self-confidence, and is unable to work, a report from the Health and Disability Commission says.

He was referred by ACC to a rehabilitation service for a 12-week Training for Independence programme, including occupational therapy to help him return to work, as well as developing resilience and coping mechanisms.

The man was assigned a registered occupational therapist, but within the first few weeks of the programme, the pair began exchanging "personal and intimate" text messages.

Communication escalated between the pair and developed into physical contact during appointments. Their relationship ended after the 12-week programme finished.

The duo's relationship was later discovered by a colleague of the occupational therapist.

Deputy Health and Disability commissioner Vanessa Caldwell says the occupational therapist failed to comply with professional, ethical, and other relevant standards.

"The maintenance of professional boundaries is an integral part of the provision of health services," she says.

"The difficulties the man was facing, as well as physical and mental health concerns, increased his vulnerability.

"By sending inappropriate text message communications, entering into an intimate relationship, and engaging in physical sexual contact with the man, the occupational therapist failed to maintain appropriate professional boundaries set out in the rehabilitation service Code of Conduct and the Occupational Therapy Board of New Zealand's Code of Ethics and Professional Boundaries Guide."

Caldwell recommends the occupational therapist complete further training relating to the management of boundaries and reapplies for her annual practising certificate. She also recommends that she gives a written apology to the man.

Caldwell also recommends the Occupational Therapy Board consider whether the occupational therapist should undertake a competency review and further training should she register for an annual practising certificate.