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Labrador West doctor disciplined again for boundary violations

Dr. Adekunle M. Owolabi, who appeared on video, had his medical licence suspended for two months at a disciplinary hearing in St. John's on Wednesday.
Dr. Adekunle M. Owolabi, who appeared on video, had his medical licence suspended for two months at a disciplinary hearing in St. John's on Wednesday.

He was sanctioned by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador (CPSNL) for the second time in four years after admitting to making 'inappropriate comments or questions reflecting a lack of respect for a patient’s dignity or privacy'

LABRADOR CITY, N.L. —

A doctor who practised in Labrador West has been sanctioned by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Newfoundland and Labrador (CPSNL) for the second time in four years. 

Dr. Adekunle M. Owolabi, appearing via video at a disciplinary hearing in St. John’s on Wednesday, admitted to a charge of professional misconduct thus breaching the CPSNL code of ethics by making “inappropriate comments or questions reflecting a lack of respect for a patient’s dignity or privacy.”

Owolabi's medical licence was suspended for two months and he will be required to have a chaperone present when dealing with female patients for an additional 24 months, with a number of conditions. He also has to pay $5,000 for the cost of the hearing.

Three other charges against Owolabi were withdrawn by the college. 

They include: professional misconduct in relation to a complaint of engaging in massage or other sustained touching of a patient without legitimate medical reasons; professional misconduct in relation to a complaint of contravening or failing to comply with a term, condition or limitation on a licence or registration with the CPSNL; and professional misconduct in relation to a complaint of contravening or failing to comply with any term or condition of an order made by an adjudication tribunal.

An agreed statement of facts, signed by the college and Owolabi, was presented at the hearing.

Lawyer Ruth Trask, representing the CPSNL, said the agreed facts show that the woman who lodged the complaint had gone to see Owolabi at the Labrador West Health Centre on Nov. 19, 2018 with concerns relating to her mental health. She was upset and tearful, and Owolabi touched her on the shoulder, giving her some tissue.

The next day, Owolabi called the woman in the morning and he logged the call in her medical record as a followup to check on her. Later that day, she went to see him in his office and talked to him about things that were causing her stress, including that she had no one to “have tea or go for a walk with.”

Trask noted that Owolabi suggested that he and the complainant “go for coffee or speak on the telephone” if she was in a mental health crisis.

Trask said Owolabi documented in his medical record that he had given the woman his personal cellphone number and told her to call him if she was in crisis, as long as she did not “abuse the opportunity” and it was strictly professional.

The notes said Owolabi warned the woman he could not “go out with her” since he was her doctor, and she agreed.

During both visits, Trask said, the chaperone was in the room initially, but had to move to an adjacent office due to pregnancy-related nausea. The statement of facts note that, while in the connected room, the chaperone could see and hear Owolabi and the patient at all times.

On Nov. 21, Owolabi sent the complainant a text message stating that he regretted saying that they could be friends, apologized and asked her to forgive him.

When he received no reply, Owolabi showed up at the woman’s workplace and asked to speak to her, but she refused. 

Shortly after, the woman lodged a complaint with the CPSNL.

Trask and Owolabi’s lawyer Robin Cook agreed on the two-month licence suspension, but disagreed on the length of time he should have a chaperone present when seeing female patients.

Cook suggested it should be only 12 months making the punishment proportional to the misconduct. 

Trask told the tribunal that Owolabi was still under sanctions from previous incidents at the time of the offence, and that should be taken into account.

In 2016, Owolabi was found guilty of professional misconduct when four women in Labrador West said he made inappropriate comments to them during clinic visits. At the time he was ordered to have a chaperone present for 30 months, and 10 months remained in that sanction when the 2018 complaint was made.

Trask noted that there has been increased scrutiny on boundary violations by physicians in recent years.

“It is a problem for the public, it is a problem in the modern era, and I would submit that there is a significant element of public confidence and integrity of the medical profession that’s engaged here by ensuring we are adequately monitoring individuals who may have challenges in this regard,” Trask said.

The tribunal deliberated for about 20 minutes before ordering the two-month licence suspension with a 24-month chaperone condition that included stringent rules including that Owolbi keep a patient log and there be more accountability for the chaperone.

THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED.

Evan Careen is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering Labrador for SaltWIre Network.

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