Tribunal suspends nurse for professional misconduct

22 Feb 2020

A tribunal has suspended a nurse for transgressing professional boundaries with a patient over text messages.

Between April 2017 and June 2017, Ms Kristeena Ballarto, an enrolled nurse, engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a patient of the psychiatric hospital at which she was employed. In particular, Ms Ballarto engaged in text messaging conversations with the patient which included:

  • private matters
  • sending and requesting personal photographs
  • internal matters about the hospital at which Ms Ballarto was employed
  • sexually suggestive and/or explicit language
  • sensitive information about other patients, and
  • Ms Ballarto reacting aggressively after the patient reported concerns for Ms Ballarto’s wellbeing.

The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) suspended Ms Ballarto’s registration on 4 July 2017 and referred her to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (tribunal).

On 21 February 2020, the tribunal handed down its final orders. The tribunal found that Ms Ballarto’s conduct constitutes professional misconduct. It noted that practitioners need to be aware that the ease and casual nature of text messaging can readily transgress professional boundaries. However, the tribunal stressed that:

  • it was the nature of the communication itself that constitutes professional misconduct, and
  • that the conversations should not have taken place in any format or mode of communication between a patient and practitioner.

The tribunal reprimanded Ms Ballarto, suspended her registration for one month and ordered conditions be imposed on her registration requiring that she undertake further education on the topic of maintaining professional boundaries.

The tribunal agreed that, although Ms Ballarto had already been suspended for a significant period, a period of suspension of one month was appropriate for the purpose of general deterrence. The tribunal noted that, had it not been for the period of suspension already served and Ms Ballarto’s admissions and cooperation, general deterrence would have required a longer period of suspension.

The tribunal considered that specific deterrence was of low importance in this case, noting Ms Ballarto’s:

  • extensive efforts to remain engaged with the profession (including undertaking further education), and
  • significant progress in terms of insight and remorse.

The decision is available on the Austlii website.

Please note: due to an administrative delay, this news item was published on 28 September 2020.

 
 
Page reviewed 22/02/2020