In this space Dr. Douglas E. Mazzuca recently expressed, with more than a little thinly veiled sarcasm, his objections to a state law mandating the fingerprinting of doctors, but it bears remembering why procedures such as fingerprinting, background checks and service letters are a necessity.
Doctors are subject to scrutiny in the form of federal and state criminal background checks, which require fingerprinting, and they also are required to sign statements saying they do not have criminal records at license renewal time. Without those safeguards, painful experience has taught us that there are some bad actors who can fly under the radar screen. It is our hope that fingerprinting will give patients and doctors an added measure of confidence that their caregivers and colleagues are beyond reproach.
Fingerprinting, background checks and the expansion of our service letter law, which requires the reporting of unprofessional conduct to potential employers, and other measures were enacted in June 2011 as a responses to the horrific crimes committed by Dr. Earl Bradley, whose acts might have been averted had measures, such as service letters been in place.
My efforts to protect people from abuse at the hands of people they trust began during the mid-1990s, when I pressed for and won passage of our first service letter law, following the death of a child who was abused at the hands of his father’s live-in girlfriend. That woman had moved from job to job at a string of day care centers, where she would quit before being fired for unprofessional conduct. She was able to keep getting jobs because her former employers didn’t report her, fearing civil suits if they made her conduct known to her next employer.
As new problems and abuses in other businesses dealing with some of our most vulnerable populations have been uncovered, I have successfully pressed for legislation expanding the service letter law and criminal background checks to cover nursing home workers and the service letter law to doctors and health care professionals. The new law obligates former employers to report questionable and unprofessional behavior while protecting them from civil suits for making the truth known.
It is tragic that it sometimes takes crimes of this nature to lead legislators to develop policies aimed at preventing abuse. Our priorities as legislators are to take decisive actions to reassure the public that we are protecting their best interests and to attempt to rebuild the trust in our vital institutions.
In passing these laws, it is our profound hope that another Dr. Bradley will not be able to elude our safeguards.
Over the years I believe my fellow legislators and our governors have made the right decisions on behalf of our fellow citizens. And, that is why I think that, while the time spent on fingerprinting and background checks may be a short-term inconvenience, the protections and benefits they offer Delawareans are well worth the time.