Session 5 C

Confronting Imminent Risk: Considering Exceptions to Confidentiality

Time: Wednesday 10:30 AM – 11:40 AM

Presenter(s): Ryan Smith, Director, Office of Collaborative Action and Dispute Resolution Michigan State University – Learn more about this presenter by visiting the presenter page.

Level: Emerging


Recently I encountered a situation where I had to consider breaking confidentiality because a visitor had threatened self-harm. I am not an attorney or a mental health professional, but thankfully, I was able to rely on other ombuds colleagues to discuss the issue and to think of a way to proceed forward. This incident also led me to reflect on the IOA’s imminent risk exception to an ombuds’ confidentiality. While I view this exception as extremely important and consequential to our work, I was not able to find a lot of guidance or best practice around it. Ultimately, I would like to facilitate constructive discussion around this topic. I hope that as a group, we can share experiences and best practice in order to co-create knowledge and standards around imminent harm. The presentation / workshop would essentially flow this way: I would like to share the experience that I had, and the factors that I used when navigating the situation. I will then present information that I was able to find regarding confidentiality and the imminent risk exception. I would like to follow up with small-group and a large group discussion around instances where others had to weigh this issue, and to see if we can generate ideas that may help others who will be in this situation in the future.

Learning Objectives

  1. Participants will better understand the imminent risk of harm exception to confidentiality.
  2. Participants will be able to apply this exception to their own context and organization.
  3. Participants will be able to consider this exception from their own background and professional training.
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