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Originally published Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

Do no harm, contd.

If the state is going to license health-care professionals in a trustworthy way, it must put the safety of patients before the career security...

If the state is going to license health-care professionals in a trustworthy way, it must put the safety of patients before the career security of professionals.

Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, is pushing a bill to fix some of the state's weak spots as revealed in a Seattle Times investigation last April. Washington's system of granting licenses — across professions ranging from doctors to nurses to dentists to registered counselors — has at best been inconsistent and, at worst, had its head in the sand. For instance, a nurse practitioner convicted of sexually assaulting an Oregon hospital patient was able to step across our border and practice here with little problem, Times reporters found. The reason? Washington performs only in-state criminal background checks, essentially turning a blind eye to a dark past that might have driven a license applicant to move here.

Another bizarre example: The punishment for a Kirkland psychologist who had sex with a patient? He had to limit his female clientele to only those over age 50.

In the past, as many as one-third of sexual-misconduct complaints against health-care providers were dismissed without investigation. Times reporters found 55 practitioners with active licenses who had sex-crimes charges.

After the series ran, the state Department of Health commendably initiated some changes. Among them was clarifying what sexual misconduct is, making sure incidents of serious harm to patients receive immediate scrutiny, and checking national licensing databases of health-care providers.

But more accountability is necessary. The 16 professional commissions and boards responsible for 57 categories of credentialed health-care professionals have been inconsistent in their standards, responsiveness and discipline.

Campbell's bill, HB 1103, would shift to the secretary of health the primary responsibility of deciding to investigate complaints, issue emergency suspensions and charges. The health boards and commissions — with their extensive expertise — would continue in critical advi-sory roles to the secretary. The bill would provide for uniform sanctions across the professions. And it would require license applicants who trained or lived out of state to pass a national criminal background check.

The bill is expected on the House floor for a vote as early as this week.

By far, most health-care professionals are ethical people, but this approach will help ensure the scoundrels are weeded out of their ranks sooner or kept out in the first place. This will be good for patients and the professionals.

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