Sexual misconduct training, new rules for NJ professional boards
Rooting out sexual misconduct by licensed professionals in exam and treatment rooms is the focus of a new directive from the state Attorney General’s Office.
State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced a course of action on Tuesday that includes helping patients know their rights and getting applicants and peers to be more forthcoming about sexual misconduct.
Through the Division of Consumer Affairs, the office oversees the licensing of roughly 700,000 professionals including doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, massage therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists.
The intended reforms come a month after a chiropractor who was a convicted child sex predator got back his license to practice in state, despite Grewal’s urging against it.
The re-licensing of Bryan Bajakian was based on a vote of the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners. Since then, Gov. Phil Murphy has announced three new nominees, all chiropractors, and the remaining members resigned, leaving just one public member of the board until the nominees are approved.
Professional boards overseen by the Division of Consumer Affairs — all 51 of them — have until October to revise applications for licenses, to more directly prompt disclosing allegations or discipline related to past sexual misconduct.
Investigations into sexual misconduct also now should include whether any other health care professional knew of the misconduct and failed to report it, according to the directive.
Patients statewide are legally entitled to have a chaperone present during a doctor’s breast, pelvic, genital, or rectal exam, and to be notified of that option. The division now will work on ways to make sure that’s being communicated, the directive said.
The directive does not clearly take on the issue of ousting convicted sex offenders who have returned to treat patients in medical fields or those who have been required to have chaperones for any patient visits based on past offenses, as previously reported by New Jersey 101.5.
In November, the Division adopted new protocol for boards that are considering license reinstatement requests from individuals whose authority to practice was previously discontinued, which aims to give the public a voice in the reinstatement process, Grewal said.
"But we still can and must do better," he added.
The state is hiring a second patient or consumer navigator, who can help “guide victims through the investigative and disciplinary process, act as liaisons between victims and the boards, and ensure boards are attuned to the interests of victims,” according to Grewal's directive.
The Board of Medical Examiners already has one staff member performing this role, he said.
Those who carry out sexual misconduct investigations will undergo additional training to address post-assault trauma, prevention of sexual misconduct, human trafficking and implicit bias, to happen by September, “if feasible,” the directive said.
It also calls for more education and training for other employees and stakeholders and for professionals both before and after licensing, for an up-to-date understanding of the rules and best practices relating to sexual misconduct.