BALTIMORE (AP) — The Maryland Board of Physicians said Wednesday that it is seeking statutory authority to conduct criminal background checks on medical license applicants despite one member's concern that health care professionals are being singled out.
The board's staff is drafting a bill for the 2015 General Assembly that should be ready for review by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene within a month, Acting Executive Director Christine Farrelly said.
The action follows a revelation that an Allegany County family practitioner, Dr. William Dando, was convicted and imprisoned in 1987 for raping a woman at gunpoint in Florida. Dando didn't disclose the nature of the crime on his 1996 Maryland medical license application, writing only that he had been convicted and incarcerated because he had "assaulted someone" while under the influence of alcohol.
Details of Dando's criminal record surfaced after he was charged in May with molesting a patient at a walk-in clinic in LaVale. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.
The Board of Physicians suspended Dando's medical license in June. The state health department's inspector general's office is investigating the circumstances of his licensure.
Board of Physicians Chairman Dr. Devinder Singh said after Wednesday's meeting that if the panel could simply mandate the background checks, it would. But federal law requires medical boards to obtain authority from their state legislatures before they can conduct criminal background checks on a national level.
"I certainly support it, and the will of the board is in support as well," he said.
Singh and Farrelly said they don't know if the bill will also propose fingerprinting of applicants or repeated background checks for biennial license renewals.
Board Policy Analyst Wynee Hawk said the bill would cover all "allied health practitioners" the board regulates, including athletic trainers, physician assistants and radiation therapists.
Maryland currently requires criminal background checks for nurses, mortuary transport workers, pharmacy technicians, licensed psychologists and residential child-care program administrators. Checks for residential child- and youth-care practitioners will begin in October 2015.
Board of Physicians Secretary-Treasurer Dr. Suresh Gupta asked if lawyers and certified public accountants will also have to undergo background checks.
"I'm opposed to just the physicians," he said.
Dr. Beryl Rosenstein pointed out that background checks are already required for many other groups.
"We're way behind," he said.
Forty-seven state medical boards require criminal background checks, and 37 also require applicants' fingerprints as an added layer of patient protection, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards. Spokesman Drew Carlson said the organization has recommended background checks since 1998.
The Maryland state medical society, MedChi, also supports background checks on physicians. The 7,500-doctor association supported a 2013 General Assembly bill that would have enabled all state health occupations boards to require background checks, but opposed a provision for repeat checks for license renewals.
"Traditionally, we've been supportive of reasonable background checks on physicians," MedChi CEO Gene Ransom said. "Obviously, it could have prevented the problem in western Maryland."
The Maryland Department of Legislative Services said in a 2011 report that the Board of Physicians opposed mandatory background checks when the legislative agency recommended them in 2006, citing concerns about costs and licensing delays. The report said data suggested that "a small number" of physicians did not self-report criminal convictions as required on their license application and renewal forms.