Last year, Maryland lawmakers declined to pass a bill promoting background checks for health-care providers. Had they acted differently, maybe a man who had been convicted of rape wouldn’t have been granted his Maryland medical license. Maybe he wouldn’t be facing charges of assaulting a patient in April.
As explained by the Baltimore Sun, the case of Dr. William Dando has renewed discussion about reforming Maryland law. It’s one of 13 states that does not conduct background checks on physicians.
Dando practiced medicine in Maryland for nearly 20 years before anyone knew he had been convicted of raping a woman at gunpoint in Florida. Now that he’s facing trial, his medical license has been suspended. He has pleaded not guilty.
Some legislators are keen to submit new bills, and the Maryland Board of Physicians also is expected to submit a proposal after discussing policy and taking feedback from public health advocates this summer.
Lisa McGiffert, director of the Safe Patient Project at Consumers Union, welcomes any action that offers consumers more information about their doctors’ criminal records. “The pattern usually is something very egregious like this happens, and that’s what makes legislators take action,” she told The Sun. “Most consumers would want to know if the physician they’re going to had a felony conviction in their background.”
Previous efforts to ensure doctors weren’t creeps, or felons, were rather tepid. In 2007, 31 recommendations were given to the state Board of Physicians for evaluating their own. One was that it be required to conduct criminal background checks of licensure applicants.
But what happened instead is about as forceful as butterfly in a boxing glove – applicants are asked to volunteer information about any arrests, guilty pleas or convictions related to crimes of “moral turpitude.” Board officials say they investigate any that are disclosed.
But, really, if you’re a scumbag who wants a medical license, are you likely to say, “Hey, I’m a scumbag who wants to practice medicine – how about an assist?”
Legislation to reform the board was passed in 2007, and again in 2012 and 2013. But none of those measures required physician background checks. They were organizational, not substantive changes, including making the board chairmanship a gubernatorial appointment and establishing dual disciplinary panels to speed processing of complaints against doctors.
The legislation in 2013 was proposed at the request of state health department employees who oversee health occupation boards. It was intended to give the physicians’ board and various other licensing boards the power to conduct background checks of applicants.
The legislation was withdrawn after the attorney general’s office said stronger language would be needed. To gain access to a national FBI database of criminal records, the boards needed statutory muscle for the background checks; so the reforms died over the linguistic difference between “may” and “shall” in the legislation, which wasn’t reintroduced.
The legislators who were pushing the measure said they got little support from state licensing boards, including the Board of Physicians.
Nine witnesses initially spoke in favor of the measure, and none opposed it. The physicians board did not participate. But MedChi, the medical society that advocates for Maryland physicians, and the Maryland Hospital Association spoke in favor of the bill, as did representatives from state boards responsible for licensing physical therapists and dentists.
Because the bill had broad support and no opposition, state health officials didn’t add its voice to the “yes” side. They were surprised when the legislation foundered.
Now comes Dando. Details about his criminal past emerged after his indictment in May. He had been practicing medicine in Maryland since 1996, despite a 1987 conviction in Florida for sexual battery with the threat of a deadly weapon.
In that case, he followed a woman home after a night of drinking at a strip club, broke into her house and raped her at gunpoint. He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was released after serving four.
The Board of Physicians suspended Dando’s license June 5. State health officials launched an investigation to determine how he got a medical license at all, given that when he applied, he told the board he “assaulted someone.”
As The Sun reports, “It is not clear if – or to what extent – the board investigated Dando after that admission.”
To make register your feelings about requiring background checks as a condition of receiving a medical license, contact your state legislators (locate them here) and register your opinion with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or telephone (877-463-3464), and the Maryland Board of Physicians.