Colorado drug crackdown in hospitals becomes law
LAKEWOOD – Hospitals in Colorado now have tighter oversight to prevent employees with drug problems from floating to other hospitals.
Gov. Bill Ritter on Saturday signed into law two measures in response to recent cases of hospital employees abusing drugs.
The laws require employers to report health care workers under suspicion to the state Department of Health within two weeks and to make information about a case available to the public, including future employers.
Earlier this year, a surgical technician admitted exposing about 6,000 patients to hepatitis C while feeding her drug addiction. The case prompted concerns that more oversight could have prevented Kristen Diane Parker from sickening patients.
Parker was sentenced in February to 30 years in prison after being convicted of stealing painkillers by using syringes on herself, then leaving the dirty needles to be reused on patients.
Parker was fired from Rose Medical Center in Denver and reported to state authorities. But Parker went on to work at Audubon Surgery Center in Colorado Springs.
Prior to working in Colorado, Parker worked in Mount Kisco, N.Y., and in Houston, where she said she also stole medication, but claims she was more careful.
Last year, a former surgery nurse who worked at Boulder Community Hospital admitted using needles, intended for patients, to steal pain medication. That nurse, Ashton Daigle, was sentenced to four and a half years in federal prison.
The sponsor of one of Colorado’s laws, Rep. Debbie Benefield, said in a statement Saturday that increased reporting could help stop drug-addicted medical workers from moving around to continue a drug habit without detection.
“No one should have to worry about contracting a disease while undergoing surgery, and dangerous health care workers should never have a second chance to endanger patients,” said Benefield, D-Arvada.
The other law sets up a statewide registry of surgical technologists and surgical assistants. Employers will have to verify those workers are in good state standing before allowing them to work.
“If this new law had been in place a few years ago, we could have caught the recently sentenced surgical technician before she exposed so many innocent victims to Hep. C and denied them their pain medication,” said Rep. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, who is a nurse.
Colorado now becomes the seventh state to regulate surgery techs. The others are Indiana, Illinois, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.
The Association of Surgical Technologists supported Colorado’s new laws. The group said that surgical techs and assistants were the only unlicensed members of a surgical team.
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