Bill could make health workers pay for FBI checks

September 13, 2010

Thousands of medical workers in Indiana would have to pay for their own FBI background checks under a lawmaker's proposed change to the state's system for obtaining health care licenses.

The plan, being sought by state Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, would replace the current policy that relies on the honesty of nurses and others to accurately report arrests and convictions when applying for licenses.

Miller said Monday that she hasn't worked out all the details, including whether the required check would apply to just new applicants or also those seeking renewals.

The bill has the potential to affect more than 250,000 Indiana workers in up to 24 categories of licensed professionals, including doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, chiropractors, hypnotists, dietitians and even veterinarians.

Miller, a registered nurse, said the bill would hold health workers to the highest standards while avoiding any cost to the cash-strapped state.

"I know the importance of having professional caregivers who are highly moral and ethical," Miller said.

An FBI national background check would cost health care workers about $75 in addition to the $50 they already pay to get a license, said Steve Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

The proposal would also require county prosecutors in Indiana to report any convictions of licensed health professionals, giving the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency real-time information about health workers. The agency already has rules in place to deal with licensed workers who break the law, but doesn't always get up-to-date information about recent convictions and mostly relies on self-reporting by applicants.

Most caregivers are honest, Miller said, but an investigation by The Indianapolis Star found several instances in which nurses failed to report arrests or convictions on their license renewal applications.

The newspaper reported in August that a Greenfield nurse was convicted last year of intimidation after he waved a loaded gun at a motorist. An Indianapolis nurse was convicted of felony drunken driving last year after a history of alcohol problems already had resulted in his nursing license being put on probation.

The state's nursing board didn't know about those crimes. The state can't afford to do background checks on the 91,500 RNs and 29,400 LPNs who work around the state, director Sean Gorman said.

Most hospitals already require background checks, but advocates say they aren't required in all situations—especially in nursing homes.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said other states that pay for background checks can spend millions of dollars. He said Miller's proposal is a good solution that would not cost the state anything.

"You don't necessarily always need to throw money at a problem like this," Zoeller said.

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