Colorado Legislature Should Tighten Background Checks For Doctors, At-Risk Adults

Colorado lawmakers have a chance to pass some important and relatively straightforward reforms this session that would help protect patients and at-risk adults. We take comfort in the fact that a pair of legislative efforts is in the works to do just that.

We argued last summer that Colorado needed to join most of the rest of the country in requiring doctors and nurses to undergo criminal background checks when seeking licenses to practice medicine here. Coloradans trust the safety of their bodies and their lives with doctors and nurses, we noted, so why not close loopholes that let medical professionals escape scrutiny?

The Denver Post’s Christopher N. Osher reported that Colorado was one of only five states that don’t require the checks for incoming doctors, and one in six for nurses. He found sexual assault and other convictions among medical professionals still at liberty to practice here.

Now Osher reports that state Rep. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, is sponsoring legislation for the Department of Regulatory Agencies that would require fingerprint criminal background checks and other safeguards that would speed notification of wrongdoing about a license-holder to regulators.

In addition to doctors and nurses, the legislation would include dentists, optometrists and podiatrists.
Another bill in the works would act on a series of recommendations from a task force assembled to address concerns about abuse of developmentally disabled adults and elderly adults served by the state’s adult protective services program within the Department of Human Services.

No doubt, more protections are needed in this area. Coloradans learned of severe shortcomings that allowed abuse at a state-run center in Pueblo. Residents were subjected to sexual assaults and physical abuse and neglect from 2012 to 2016, but after all the investigations were done, only one person was punished with a criminal conviction, and then only for minor offenses.

Task force members found that Colorado’s system for protecting at-risk adults from bad employees is dangerously, and even offensively, porous. Presently, even those convicted of crimes, or those found to have committed abuses while working with at-risk adults, are allowed employment serving that population.

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