Last year, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bevy of new laws designed to protect children from abuse. The legislative push was inspired by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal that played out at Penn State University. The scandal was a nationwide news story that showed how a predator could use a job involving frequent contact with children to find and take advantage of victims. Last year's implementation of new child protection laws was a direct response to the scandal, designed to prevent similar cases in the future.
Among other things, the Pennsylvania laws demand in-depth background checks for all employees who work with children. However, it now looks like either there is a loophole in the law or someone is seriously misreading it. According to a report from ABC 27 News—an ABC affiliate based in the Harrisburg area—the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services "is advising doctors and medical personnel that they are no longer required to have criminal background checks." Evidently, the DHS has read the state's new laws in such a way that provides a loophole or an "out" for medical professionals who would have previously been required by law to go through background checks.
ABC 27 News interviewed one of the people who consulted on the creation of the child protective laws, and he said that he was "mystified" as to how anyone could draw that conclusion. However, the news station also interviewed someone who works for DHS, who said that the statement about doctors no longer needing background checks was far from a misreading or misinterpretation. If this DHS source is to be believed, Pennsylvania's recent law changes actually removed a clause that called for background checks of all medical professionals. As a result—in the opinion of the Department of Human Services, at least—there is not currently a law in Pennsylvania that requires background checks for doctors.
Even without looking at the legalese to determine whether or not there is a clause about medical professional background checks, the simple fact that there is a disagreement on the subject between one of the architects of the new legislation and DHS is cause for serious concern. While many hospitals or medical practices require their own pre-employment background checks of newly-hired doctors or staff, the state licensing checks are still important as an extra layer of security. In terms of child abuse clearances, doctors are probably less likely to have time alone with children than, say, youth sports coaches. However, if Pennsylvania's recent legislative update really did remove the background check requirement for doctors and medical professionals, that change affects more than just would-be child abusers or sexual predators. Those background checks are important for catching other charges, like violent crimes, drug problems, and other factors that might affect a person's ability to provide quality medical care.
Bottom line, the hope is that this alarming bit of news will inspire Pennsylvania officials to take a second look at their recent legislation and make sure that it hasn't removed the background check requirement for medical professionals.