The complaints process is often an area of uncertainty for employers, complainants and regulated members. Much of this uncertainty comes from misunderstanding the process, which often creates many misconceptions.

Over the next few weeks, the College will be publishing information on the complaint process. In this first article, we will discuss some of the initial things that happen when a complaint is submitted to the College.

A complaint about you has been submitted to the College…

A complaint has come into the College, and someone has alleged you did (or did not do) something and now your conduct is in question. What’s next? What does this mean?

It is important to understand that this situation can happen to any regulated member of any healthcare profession in Alberta. A significant piece of the Health Professions Act is dedicated to making sure that patients and the public have a formal process to identify and resolve issues with their healthcare providers. Complaints can be made by patients, the public, an employer or another regulated member.

The Complaints Director can also initiate a complaint if they have information that a member’s actions may constitute unprofessional conduct.

When a complaint comes into the College, you will be notified of the complaint with a formal letter from the College, which will include a copy of the complaint against you. At this time, you will be provided an opportunity to respond to the allegations in writing.

What does this mean for your practice permit? Do you have to stop practicing?

If serious matters are raised in the complaint and the Complaints Director has reason to believe that the member poses a risk to the public, a suspension or conditions may be placed on the member’s practice permit while the file is being investigated. This decision is not taken lightly, and in order for conditions or a suspension to be placed on a member’s permit, the Complaints Director will review all relevant information to make an informed decision regarding the potential risk of harm to the public.

You will be informed of any decisions regarding a suspension or conditions to be placed on your practice permit. If there are no restrictions or conditions, you can continue to practice normally.

Does my employer need to be aware of the complaint? Does the College inform them, or do I have to?

The only information the College is required by the Health Professions Act to communicate to your employer is any change that is made to the status of your practice permit. However, the employer may become aware of the complaint if they are contacted for information about the incident during the course of the investigation. This typically happens if the incident relates to on-duty conduct.

What happens after you respond to the College following the initial complaint letter?

The Complaints Director has a few options on how to proceed:

The complaint may be dismissed. This happens where it is determined that the complaint is trivial or vexatious, or if the allegations against the member do not constitute unprofessional conduct. For example, this can occur when a member of the public makes a complaint that has to do with an administrative issue, rather than the care that was provided.

The Complaints Director can also try to resolve the issue, either informally or formally, between the complainant and the member. An example of this could be when a public member feels there were communication issues on the call.

The Complaints Director can make a direction under section 118 of the HPA for the member to cease practicing for grounds of incapacity.

Most commonly, however, the Complaints Director will refer the complaint to investigation in order obtain all relevant information and to get a better picture of what occurred. The next conduct series article will walk you through what happens during an investigation; but if you are curious now, please visit the Investigations Process page of the website.