Colorado may be inching closer to requiring full background checks to be conducted for healthcare workers applying for licenses and certifications. House Bill 17-1121 (“The Patient Safety Act”) emerged to address concerns that patients in hospitals and nursing homes may be in contact with dangerous criminals. If enacted, the bill would require 160,000 healthcare professionals to undergo fingerprint checks as part of their employment background checks. The bill has passed significant obstacles in the House and has progressed to the Senate.

The new law would apply to medical doctors, nurses, nurse aides, optometrists, physician assistants, and others. If signed into law, the legislation would require those who currently hold a Colorado license or certificate, and all prospective healthcare workers applying for their licenses or certificates, to undergo fingerprint testing.

Currently, Colorado is just one of six states that does not require fingerprint checks for doctors applying for their Colorado licenses, and one of five that does not require nurses applying for licensure to undergo such checks. The system relies on voluntary disclosure on behalf of healthcare workers to divulge their criminal histories when applying to receive their licenses and certificates. Professionals who already have their license or certificate must inform employers of their arrests. In some cases, many simply fail to disclose their criminal pasts.  

Investigations by a prominent local newspaper released last year revealed that many applying to positions in healthcare and those currently contributing to the field fail to disclose the required information. Due to severe flaws in the current system, some healthcare workers with serious convictions for drug crimes or violent offenses had gone undetected for years, coming into contact with vulnerable patients in their roles as caregivers.

It is estimated that it would take two years to check everyone currently practicing medicine in Colorado with a valid license or certificate. A single fingerprint check can take a month to fully process. New applicants and current holders of licenses and certificates would be required to pay about $40 for a full fingerprint background check as part of the fees associated with obtaining a 2 year license or certificate, should the bill become law.

In addition to requiring the documentation of the fingerprints of all Colorado healthcare workers, the bill would impose penalties on employers who fail to report actions that require them to terminate healthcare workers or that force workers to resign. Penalties would come in the form of fines of hundreds of dollars to upwards of $5,000. The bill has strong support among the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee and the House Finance Committee, in addition to many seniors and victims’ advocates.

This law is a serious response to criminal activity that endangers patients’ lives. Nurses have been accused of sexual assault, harassment, rape, stealing drugs, money, or other possessions of patients, and more. If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Colorado, you deserve strong representation. Attorney Miller Leonard has practiced criminal law for 17 years. He is a former Special Assistant United States Attorney, a former State Prosecutor, and a former State Public Defender. Call (720) 613-8783 or contact us to schedule a free consultation.