The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the regulation of health professionals in Ontario. On October 7, 2020 the OBA’s Health Law Section hosted a timely webinar where we heard from both the regulators and the defence counsels’ perspectives. This article discusses some of the highlights and take-away points of the program.
Robert Barbiero, of Torkin Manes LLP, and health lawyer, Carina Lentsch, moderated the panel discussion with Emily Graham, counsel with The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO), Colin Johnston, counsel at Lenczner Slaght, Kristopher Librera, investigator at the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO), and Lindsay Kantor, a partner at Torkin Manes LLP.
Both the CPSO and CNO adapted quickly to the evolving pandemic. As Graham and Librera explained, the most significant changes included moving the Colleges’ workforce, council meetings, and hearings to operate virtually. Both reported that the transition to virtual operations went relatively smooth following an initial scramble in the early stages, when the pandemic hit Canada. Kantor pointed out that a similar transition took place at all of the 31 Colleges in Ontario that regulate the health-care professions. The move to virtual operations was varied and did not occur without some challenges.
While the CPSO was able to proceed with hearings and investigations without significant interruption or delay, the CNO, purposefully delayed certain processes in order to give their members a break. Librera explained that many nurses were dealing with the stressors of working at the front lines of the pandemic. Kantor noted that many of her clients appreciated this move.
With the transition to virtual, Colleges are contending with multiple e-hearing and e-meeting platform service providers. There is not a single technology that has been universally adopted. Both CPSO and CNO currently use a variety of different virtual platforms to conduct their operations and hearings; including but not limited to Zoom, Meet X, Skype for Business, and Microsoft Teams. The panel encouraged lawyers representing health-care professionals in College proceedings to turn their minds to what technologies are being used, and how these technologies may affect the conduct of a proceeding and impact on they are able to advocate for their clients.