The Impact of COVID-19 on Professional Regulators
March 31, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting profound challenges world-wide stressing the capacity of societal institutions, businesses, and organizations. We know that our professional regulatory clients are facing extraordinarily difficult and unique challenges. We also know that many of your members are on the front-lines battling the crisis or trying to find ways to continue patient or client care under the most trying of circumstances. Our hearts are with all the front-line workers from all the professions and they have our gratitude.
We want our clients to know that our Professional Regulatory Group is here to help you through this difficult time. Members of our team have all successfully transitioned to working at home with no interruption to the service we provide to clients, and Field Law is maintaining a skeleton staff at our offices so we have access if necessary. We have good technological support and we are holding virtual meetings on a regular basis to share information and collaborate as we usually do. We continue to provide advice and assistance to clients via email, telephone calls, group teleconference, videoconference, memos and formal opinions.
Professional regulators face a broad range of complex legal issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic including the following:
- The impact of public health directives on the business of professional regulators. Can regulators stay open to the public?
- Can regulated health professionals continue to provide services to the public?
- The duties on professional regulators as employers including occupational health and safety obligations. (For access to Field Law’s resources for employers visit our COVID-19 Portal.)
- Managing a working-from-home workforce.
- Managing privacy issues relating to employee health status and COVID-19.
- The need to cancel or adjourn annual general meetings due to public health directives limiting the size of public gatherings. Can regulators forego AGM’s mandated by their legislation or bylaws?
- The potential disruption of Council elections due to the COVID-19.
- The duty of regulated members, professional regulatory staff and council members to report public health threats under s. 1.1 of the Health Professions Act. What do regulators advise their members about reconciling this obligation with the obligation to maintain patient/client confidentiality? (See the recent article on this issue, COVID-19 + The Duty to Report.)
- The ability to hold remote on-line regulatory hearings. Members of our team are rapidly mobilizing in this area to act as counsel and independent counsel in remote hearings so that our client’s regulatory processes are not undermined or unduly delayed by COVID-19. We are also exploring various on-line platforms for remote hearings.
- Reconciling mandatory timelines in professional regulatory legislation with the COVID-19 pandemic. We are monitoring whether legislation suspending limitation periods will be introduced in Alberta as in Ontario and whether the legislation will be sufficiently broad to impact professional regulators.
- Potential direction by professional regulators to regulated members requiring the closure of offices except for emergency patient care.
- Creating special processes to expedite registration of new regulated members.
- Bringing retired members back into active practice to meet demand for medical services and reconciling with currency requirements.
- Disruption of the conditions required to obtain membership such as practicums and supervised practice.
- Management of regulatory examinations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- As regulated members rapidly transition to providing professional services by telephone, videoconference, or other technological platforms, many professional regulators are examining whether they need to provide additional guidance to their members. Does the regulator have a standard of practice that addresses telehealth? Does the membership need more guidance on issues such as consent, types of treatment, privacy implications, and documentation?
We are actively addressing many of these complex issues. If you need assistance on these issues or any other regulatory and issues that arise during these challenging times, please feel free to contact any member of our Professional Regulatory Group. We will be there to help you get through this.