Last week, the Maryland Board of Physicians, in conjunction with Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, requested an investigation from the Office of the Inspector General into matters related to the 1996 licensure of William Dando ("Allegany doctor pleads not guilty to sexually assaulting patient," June 10).
This action is reflective of the steadfast commitment to improvement and transparency that the Board of Physicians has embraced since my appointment by Gov. Martin O'Malley to chair the board two years ago.
The board has enacted almost every recommendation made in the 2011 Department of Legislative Services audit as well as those from the independent review report issued by University of Maryland, Baltimore President Dr. Jay Perman and colleagues. These changes included policies and processes which cleared a dense backlog of unresolved cases, increased transparency through the board's website contents and improved resolution times for complaints and licensure. The board has increased the opportunities for quick resolution of charges, increased it's use of the National Practitioner Data Base, standardized investigations and trained its staff and members in best practices. The board is currently functioning in the two panel disciplinary system as recommended in the Perman report. As such, the board has been able to turn increasing attention to matters of policy and statute to prevent complaints and "make recommendations that benefit the health, welfare, and safety of the public."
Throughout the last two legislative sessions, the authorizing law for the Board of Physicians has been bared and subject to a major overhaul involving all stakeholders in the legislative process. The result has been the passage of HB 1096 in 2013, also called the board's "sunset" legislation. This was a major accomplishment considering the board was on the brink of statutory dissolution. Additionally, the board introduced many important bills in 2013 and 2014 which further improved patient safety and board function.
The authority to conduct criminal background checks for licensure is not a matter of "policy" of the board but requires a change to the board's authorizing statute through the legislative process. At no time in the last two years has the Board of Physicians opposed conducting criminal background checks.
In 2013, bills were introduced in the Maryland General Assembly to authorize all health occupations boards to adopt regulations requiring criminal background checks for licensees. The board fully anticipated the passage of a comprehensive law authorizing criminal background checks for licensure and did not oppose these bills. Inexplicably, a law did not pass. The board's sunset legislation, however, did strengthen the requirement that courts report to the MBP in a timely manner information about convictions or "no contest" pleas. Despite erroneous comments in recent press, the Board of Physicians did not oppose or resist being granted the authority to conduct criminal background checks.
In 2014, bills were introduced to authorize boards other than the Board of Physicians to conduct criminal background checks for licensure. The Board of Physicians did not oppose the inclusion of physicians in those bills. The board's authorizing statute was once again extensively modified through a collaborative, bipartisan effort when the General Assembly authorized the licensure of naturopathic doctors under the Board of Physicians. Yet again the board was not granted authority to conduct criminal background checks for existing or new health occupations licensees.
The Board of Physicians will work with all interested stakeholders to construct legislation authorizing criminal background checks for its licensees. It might be anticipated that whatever opposition existed may now have eroded in light of recent events. Let the legislative record speak for itself; that opposition was not ours.
Dr. Andrea Mathias, Baltimore
The writer is chair of the Maryland Board of Physicians.
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