Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal, 651/Nur14/285D, (10 September 2014)
The Director of Proceedings laid a charge against mental health nurse, Craig Kurth, in the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal concerning an inappropriate personal relationship he commenced with a patient in 2012. Mr Kurth did not attend the hearing. The Tribunal found that the charge of professional misconduct had been made out and cancelled Mr Kurth's registration as a nurse.
Mr Kurth was employed by the DHB in the Mental Health Inpatient Unit (MHIP). He attended the discharge meeting for a young female inpatient and then drove her home. They exchanged mobile telephone numbers. Following her discharge, the patient continued to receive treatment as an outpatient from community mental health services. During this time Mr Kurth exchanged text messages with the patient, met with her socially (including at a motel on four or five occasions), went camping with her, and had some physical contact by way of a hug or cuddle. Mr Kurth denied having a sexual relationship with the patient.
About a month after her discharge, the patient was at home, upset and emotional. She exchanged text messages with Mr Kurth in which she indicated that she was suicidal and had self-harmed. The exchange included Mr Kurth's response of "OK. Let me know when u stop." Mr Kurth did not take any steps to seek assistance for the patient or to ensure her safety during the exchange of text messages that evening. The patient's family found her and called an ambulance. She was taken to the Emergency Department having seriously self-harmed. After being admitted to the MHIPU, there was a further exchange of text messages between Mr Kurth and the patient where Mr Kurth said "u break my heart…do I mean anything to u?" Then he asked her to change his name in her phone. Following the patient's readmission to the MHIPU, the DHB discovered the relationship and formally investigated the matter. Mr Kurth admitted he had formed an inappropriate relationship with the patient. As a result, the DHB dismissed Mr Kurth from employment. Following the dismissal, Mr Kurth remained in contact with the patient despite being instructed not to.
The Tribunal was satisfied that Mr Kurth failed to set and maintain professional boundaries and allowed an intimate personal relationship to form with the patient. Independent expert advice concluded that Mr Kurth's conduct was a severe departure from the boundaries required to maintain a professional therapeutic relationship and a serious departure from acceptable practice. As was Mr Kurth's inaction following the text message exchange in which the patient disclosed her self-harming. The Tribunal found that his personal relationship with the patient compromised his objectivity and professional judgment that evening and was a stark reminder of the reason for professional boundaries. The Tribunal noted that it is an essential feature of the trust that is placed in nurses that they carry out their duties in a way that does not breach the ethical and clinical boundaries set for the profession.
Mr Kurth abused his position of trust in relation to a clearly vulnerable patient. The patient had a history of self-harming and suicidal ideation triggered by relationship difficulties. Despite his knowledge of this history, Mr Kurth began a personal relationship with her. He actively took steps to conceal the relationship and did not disclose the full extent of the relationship when first interviewed by the DHB. The Tribunal was concerned that Mr Kurth was not willing to engage in the disciplinary process and therefore unable or unwilling to be rehabilitated. The Tribunal cancelled Mr Kurth's registration, censured him, imposed conditions on his practice should he ever seek to resume practice, and imposed costs.
The Tribunal's decision can be found at: https://www.hpdt.org.nz/Charge-Details?file=Nur14/285D
Last reviewed February 2019