Colorado’s ‘self-reporting’ system to protect patients from addicted health care workers criticized

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DENVER -- Patients have complained that Colorado’s system to protect them from health care workers addicted to drugs or alcohol does not work.

It’s called self-reporting and state law says health care workers convicted of criminal activity must self-report to their licensing board.

“They don’t want to lose their livelihood. They don’t want to lose their license and the last thing they are going to do is report themselves," said a patient, who did not want to share her identity.

A FOX31 Denver Problem Solvers investigation found three recent cases where health care workers should have reported themselves to their licensing agency but failed to do so. Now countless patients are feeling the pain of an honor system that left them vulnerable.

Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies requires licensing boards, like the nursing board, to license nurses. During that process, the applicant is supposed to self-report any adverse actions or violations including criminal convictions and terminations.

Also, health care workers who are not licensed in Colorado, but must register, should self-report as well. DORA does not do background checks on health care workers. That’s left up to employers and self-reporting is supposed to weed out the bad apples.

There are fines and discipline for not self-reporting, but we found health care workers with criminal convictions still practicing.

Surgical tech Rocky Allen

Surgical Technician Rocky Allen was supposed to report his previous terminations when he registered, but testimony in federal court revealed he didn’t.

The surgical tech was fired by Swedish Medical Center after he was accused of switching out needles to satisfy a drug habit. Swedish hired Allen not knowing he had been fired from four hospitals and court-martialed by the military for stealing drugs while deployed in Afghanistan.

“I feel they are not protecting us as patients who go in there," said a patient from Swedish who did not want to use her name.

She is one of nearly 3,000 Swedish patients being tested for hepatitis and HIV infection.

When asked how well she thinks self-reporting works, the anonymous patient said, “It don’t. I mean obviously you look at all those hospitals, all those incidents in the past, obviously the people are not reporting.”

Former nurse Thomas Moore

Former registered nurse Thomas Moore is another health care worker who was fired multiple times in Colorado and Nebraska. It’s not clear if he self-reported, like Colorado law requires, a criminal conviction in 2011 for child abuse and a DUI in Weld County.

DORA won’t say whether Moore self-reported because he is under investigation for several sexual assault cases involving 10 victims in Nebraska and Colorado.

In June 2015, UC Health, which employed Moore at hospitals in Fort Collins and Greeley, fired him. UC Health reported Moore to the nursing board, but his license was not suspended for seven months.

DORA finally took action when Fort Collins police arrested him.

“With Thomas Moore, it is so disturbing to me," said a woman who asked us to protect her identity because she made an anonymous complaint to DORA. "I was in a number of those facilities that he worked in during the time that he was there. It could have been me.”

Optometrist Teresa Beer

She filed her complaint because of another health care worker, Greeley optometrist Teresa Beer.

“She had a long history of alcohol issues," the anonymous woman said.

Beer’s DUI arrests began in 1996 and continued to 2015 with her fifth arrest. State documents suggest she never self-reported.

After the 2015 arrest, it took DORA four months to place her under supervised probation. When the optometrist would not sign the probation agreement, she lost her license. But she kept seeing patients anyway.

FOX31 Denver had an appointment, but two days before we showed up, Beer was back in jail for failing a Breathalyzer while on work release for a DUI conviction.

Debbie Leach was Beer’s secretary, who said she did not know she was booking patients in violation of a state order.

“I was a little angry because I don’t want myself to be implicated," Leach said.

Self-reporting usually works

DORA maintains self-reporting usually works.

“There’s a huge sanction for lying on your application or miss-representing information. That person can lose their license, their ability to work.” said Lauren Larson, director of professions and occupations at DORA, adding there is the threat of fines and disciplinary action.

State Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, is working on legislation specifically tied to surgical techs such as Allen, but adds Colorado might want to toughen requirements for all health care workers.

When asked if she expects the bad apples to self-report, Ginal said, “No I do not. This is something that I think we need to put better safeguards up.”

In Colorado, law enforcement is not required to report the arrests of health care workers to DORA. The regulatory agency admits it relies on anonymous complaints and suspended 37 health care workers last year.

To make an anonymous complaint to DORA about a health care worker, visit its website and select "I Want to File a Complaint" or call 303-894-7800.

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