An experienced nurse who formed a close personal relationship with a vulnerable mental health patient before they became housemates and shared alcohol has been found guilty of professional misconduct.
The man attempted suicide twice at the Illawarra townhouse, but Lea Andrews – who was no longer his case manager – didn't tell her bosses he was living with her.
The patient, who has chronic paranoid schizophrenia, also had longstanding issues with drug and alcohol abuse and a history of self-harm and suicidal behaviour
Andrews also was found to have accessed his electronic medical records, when no longer his case manager, with there being no clinical justification.
The Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Tuesday found Andrews guilty of unsatisfactory professional conduct and professional misconduct.
She didn't take part in the proceedings, brought by the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC), but did report that she had thought she was helping the patient.
“I realise that I should not have tried to help this person in the way I did,” she said.
“My life is ruined by what I have done.
“I have lost my profession, my health and my financial stability due to what has occurred.”
Between 2014 and 2019, Andrews worked as a mental health nurse at an Illawarra drug and alcohol rehabilitation service.
She had been a registered nurse for more than 30 years when she became case manager for the outpatient in 2016.
The HCCC did not allege Andrews had a romantic or sexual relationship with the patient, but a “close personal relationship”.
The tribunal found the frequency of visits to his home – said to be around 68 times – for little or no apparent clinical reason indicated she had formed such a relationship that didn't maintain the boundaries expected of a registered nurse.
She also went to a birthday gathering with him and his family, which the tribunal said was highly improper and inappropriate.
When she was no longer his case manager, he began living in a townhouse with her for almost a year which the tribunal described as “a financial benefit” for her.
Andrews said he was homeless and had asked to stay for a while to get accommodation and finances sorted out.
The tribunal found Andrews had failed to recognise her “over-involvement” or disclose it to an appropriate person.
She had consumed alcohol with him at the home they shared when she knew of his longstanding struggle with drug and and alcohol abuse.
She also knew his background of self-harming and suicidal behaviour particularly in the context of drug or alcohol intoxication
While she said she was trying to help him with accommodation, her consumption of alcohol with him was “in disregard for any consideration for his safety”.
Her decision to share accommodation demonstrated a failure to uphold the boundaries between the therapeutic and personal relationships.
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