Bill re­quir­ing crim­i­nal checks passes key hur­dles

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Christo­pher N. Osher

Spurred on by con­cerns that dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals are get­ting hired to care for ill, dis­abled and frail pa­tients, leg­is­la­tion that would re­quire fin­ger­print­based crim­i­nal back­ground checks for health care pro­fes­sion­als in Colorado passed key hur­dles this month.

House Bill 17-1121, spon­sored by Rep. Janet Buck­ner, D-Aurora, re­cently cleared two key House com­mit­tees and ap­pears headed to the Sen­ate for fi­nal con­sid­er­a­tion. The House Health, In­sur­ance and En­vi­ron­ment Com­mit­tee and the House Fi­nance Com­mit­tee both gave their bless­ing to the leg­is­la­tion, which would re­quire more than 160,000 health care work­ers in Colorado to sub­mit their fin­ger­prints for crim­i­nal records checks.

The leg­is­la­tion would af­fect nurses, med­i­cal doc­tors, den­tists, den­tal hy­gien­ists, cer­ti­fied nurse aides, op­tome-

op­tometrists, physi­cian as­sis­tants, po­di­a­trists and vet­eri­nar­i­ans. If signed into law, the bill would re­quire cur­rent li­censees and cer­tifi­cate hold­ers and fu­ture ap­pli­cants for li­cen­sure or cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to come un­der the fin­ger­print check sys­tem.

In­sti­tut­ing fin­ger­print-based records checks would bring Colorado in line with most states. Colorado is one of only six states that doesn’t re­quire doc­tors to un­dergo crim­i­nal records checks for li­cen­sure and one of five states that doesn’t have that re­quire­ment for nurses.

Buck­ner said she’s con­fi­dent the Demo­cratic-con­trolled House will pass the leg­is­la­tion, but she’s con­cerned the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Sen­ate could be a tougher sell. Repub­li­cans might ob­ject to any ex­tra reg­u­la­tion, but se­niors, a key con­stituency, are en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port­ers, she said.

The cur­rent sys­tem in Colorado re­lies on ap­pli­cants to di­vulge past crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity when they ap­ply for a cer­tifi­cate or li­cense. Those who al­ready hold a li­cense or cer­tifi­cate also are re­quired to re­veal ar­rests. But in­ves­tiga­tive re­ports by The Den­ver Post last year found that many of those ap­ply­ing to work as doc­tors and nurses and those al­ready li­censed for such work fail to make the re­quired dis­clo­sures. The news­pa­per found in­stances in which nurses and doc­tors who had been con­victed of vi­o­lent felonies and drug thefts had es­caped de­tec­tion for years and re­mained li­censed.

“Health care pro­fes­sion­als with a his­tory of dan­ger­ous prac­tice can too eas­ily es­cape de­tec­tion un­der our cur­rent reg­u­la­tions,” said Ron­nie Hines, di­rec­tor of the di­vi­sion in the Colorado Depart­ment of Reg­u­la­tor Agen­cies that would be in charge of the fin­ger­print record check sys­tem, dur­ing a com­mit­tee hear­ing.

“Trans­parency is es­sen­tial to en­sur­ing pa­tient safety,” she added. “Cases of drug di­ver­sion and sex­ual as­sault in health care set­tings come to mind as you con­sider the head­lines this past year.”

Hines high­lighted re­cent news re­ports on Cherry Creek Nurs­ing Cen­ter as to why the leg­is­la­tion is needed. A law­suit al­leges a nurs­ing su­per­vi­sor with a his­tory of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing and ha­rass­ing sub­or­di­nates raped a nurse in a bath­room there. The nurs­ing su­per­vi­sor was sus­pended, and he even­tu­ally re­signed, but nei­ther he nor the nurs­ing home re­ported the rape to the Colorado Board of Nurs­ing.

The nurs­ing board did not learn the nurs­ing su­per­vi­sor had been con­victed of two counts of sex­ual as­sault un­til a re­porter called. An­other nurse was ar­rested on four counts of sex­ual as­sault on a 13year-old who had been vol­un­teer­ing at the nurs­ing home. That nurse later pleaded guilty to a felony child ex­ploita­tion charge, a con­vic­tion that the nurs­ing board only learned of af­ter a call from a re­porter.

Em­ploy­ers cur­rently are re­quired to re­port to the state ac­tions that re­sult in a ter­mi­na­tion or a res­ig­na­tion in lieu of ter­mi­na­tion. House Bill 17-1121 would im­pose fines of $500 to $5,000 on em­ploy­ers for each fail­ure to re­port.

If the fin­ger­print-based sys­tem is es­tab­lished, au­to­matic alerts of ar­rests would be sent to the pro­fes­sional boards in charge of li­cens­ing and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. The boards would then re­view the records to de­ter­mine if ac­tion is re­quired.

The Depart­ment of Reg­u­la­tory Agen­cies es­ti­mates it will take two years to get all those cur­rently hold­ing a li­cense or cer­tifi­cate to un­dergo a fin­ger­print back­ground check. It takes about a month to process a fin­ger­print check. New ap­pli­cants and those cur­rently li­censed will be charged up to $39.50 for a back­ground check fee for two-year li­censes or cer­ti­fi­ca­tions if the bill be­comes law.

The depart­ment es­ti­mates the cur­rent sys­tem fails to de­tect crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity con­ducted by 3 per­cent of those who hold a li­cense or cer­tifi­cate. That means the depart­ment be­lieves the fin­ger­print sys­tem would flag about 1,245 li­censed or cer­ti­fied pro­fes­sion­als for past crim­i­nal con­vic­tions in fis­cal year 2018 and about 3,523 in fis­cal year 2019. By fis­cal year 2020, about 505 of those an­nu­ally ap­ply­ing for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion or li­cen­sure would be flagged, the depart­ment es­ti­mates.

Most of those crim­i­nal his­to­ries would be in­con­se­quen­tial and would not re­sult in any ad­verse li­cens­ing ac­tion, the depart­ment says, but about 25 per­cent would lead to fur­ther re­view, which could re­sult in po­ten­tial re­vo­ca­tion of the li­cense or cer­tifi­cate re­quired to con­tinue work­ing. Lesser penal­ties also could be im­posed, rang­ing from ver­bal warn­ings to tem­po­rary sus­pen­sions.

If the leg­is­la­tion doesn’t be­come law, nurses in Colorado even­tu­ally could be barred from us­ing their Colorado nurs­ing li­cense to work in other states. Cur­rently, a com­pact that in­cludes about 25 states al­lows nurses to travel across many state lines to find work, but that com­pact will ex­pire in 2018. A new com­pact is be­ing drawn up, which is ex­pected to re­quire all par­tic­i­pat­ing states to have fin­ger­print-based crim­i­nal records checks, Hines said.

The bill has drawn the op­po­si­tion of the Colorado Long-Term As­sis­tance Providers, a pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tion for cer­ti­fied nurse aides, which pre­dicts ad­di­tional reg­u­la­tion will make it harder to grow that field.

“The bot­tom line is clients will be forced to make choices like go­ing with­out care or leav­ing their home to move into a fa­cil­ity,” said Ryan Zeiger, chair­man of that group. “That’s al­ready hap­pen­ing with the job market as it is.”

Tes­ti­fy­ing in sup­port of the bill this month was Michelle Shelly, the mother of a 10-year-old girl with spe­cial needs who re­quires con­stant care from a nurse in the fam­ily home. She said her daugh­ter’s for­mer nurse had bru­tally beaten the pa­tient, us­ing el­bows and also drop­ping equip­ment from a lift sys­tem on the girl’s chest, rup­tur­ing the in­ner tis­sue of the ear. A home sur­veil­lance sys­tem cap­tured the beat­ings on video, Shelly said. Felony charges were re­duced to mis­de­meanors af­ter the nurse pleaded guilty.

“My daugh­ter’s phys­i­cal wounds have healed. How­ever, her men­tal wounds have not,” Shelly said. “The lift sys­tem is no longer a fun gig­gling zip ride. It is now a ride of ter­ror. Her bed is no longer a peace­ful place of rest. It is filled with night­mares. The chang­ing ta­ble is no longer a play­ful place of dress­ing up. It is a tomb of ter­ror.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.