Colorado Case Highlights Needs for Nursing Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 5/20/2016

Colorado does not require hospitals to disclose misconduct allegations to the state licensing body.

In the education sector, there is a practice known as "passing the trash," where schools allow teachers or administrators accused of sexual misconduct to resign quietly rather than face arrest or other legal ramifications. Needless to say, this practice is extremely harmful, as it allows sexual predators to find work elsewhere and continue abusing kids. Unfortunately, in some areas, it seems a similar practice exists for nurses.

According to a report recently published by CBS News, there is a male nurse in the Denver, Colorado, who is currently facing numerous charges for sexually assaulting women while on the job. One story cited in the article involved a woman who went to the hospital on Christmas Eve 2013 for abdominal pain. She received a dose of morphine to help with the pain and then fell unconscious. When she woke up, a male nurse was groping and kissing her. Later, the nurse found and friended her on Facebook.

It was a year and a half before the woman reported the incident. When she did, police started investigating the male nurse in question. They found eight other women who claimed to have had similar experiences with the man. They also found that the accusations weren't limited to Poudre Valley Hospital—where the Christmas Eve 2013 incident occurred.

On the contrary, the male nurse had been fired from three different hospitals by the time he was finally arrested. He'd also been reported for an "unspecified incident" at a Nebraska hospital in 2013, shortly before the Christmas Eve incident. Some of his victims even reported his misconduct to the police. None of these events mattered. Police evidently never pursued charges against the man and the hospitals where he worked seemingly failed to notify state licensing boards or future employers. At very least, no state licensing board ever took action against the nurse. As a result, an alleged predator was able to gain access to one victim after another.

How could these incidents have been prevented? The hospitals probably could have run stronger background checks, seeking out information from the suspect's former employers. Because no one pressed charges, the man didn't have a criminal record, nor were there any warrants out for his arrest. However, judging by how many hospitals employed and then fired him, a simple reference or verification check should have found some answers.

Arguably the bigger problem is that hospitals can opt not to disclose something like one of these incidents to the proper authorities. The CBS News report indicated that a hospital or two may have reported the suspect to Colorado's nursing board, but also noted that the board always keeps reports confidential until they decide to take disciplinary action. The nursing board definitely never took disciplinary action and has refused to disclose whether or not the male nurse in question was ever the subject of a complaint or investigation.

Two things are for sure, though. First, Colorado does not have any laws on the books that demand hospitals to report employee misconduct allegations to the state regulatory body. Second, the Colorado nursing board does not run background checks on license applicants. As a result, it's easy for nurses who have been fired over misconduct allegations to find new jobs without appropriate amount of scrutiny. A law demanding better sharing of misconduct allegations between hospitals would help to prevent accused predators from landing new jobs.


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