Bill allowing private investigators to determine identity of unidentified patients nears passage in Arizona


Hannah Saunders


At the Arizona House’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting on Monday, members passed Senate Bill 1221, which allows hospitals to request assistance from a criminal justice agency to figure out the identity of unidentified patients. The bill, which has already passed in the Senate, passed through the committee by a vote of six to two.

SB 1221 would allow registered private investigators to obtain fingerprints or biometric information from patients who are deceased or incapacitated. The fingerprints or biometric information would then be provided to a criminal justice agency, without the patient’s authorization or consent, who would conduct background checks. The bill would also require the criminal justice agency to provide the hospital with the name of the unidentified person without providing the patient’s criminal history record.


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“We really did make an effort to make it very clear that this is in no way shape or form to be used in any type of criminal investigation of any kind,” said sponsor of the bill Sen. TJ Shope (R – Pinal).

Shope stressed how he wants police officers to be able to patrol the streets instead of obtaining fingerprints in hospitals. He also mentioned how private investigators in Arizona currently have to go through a licensing process that includes a rigorous background check.

Steven Mortell provided testimony on behalf of the Donor Network of Arizona in support of the bill.

“SB 1221 continues the ability to find family members whose loved ones have been hospitalized and are either incapacitated or deceased,” Mortell said.

He mentioned how a temporary measure was enacted last year that implemented this process, but emphasized that SB 1221 would make these measures permanent. 

“Already, this law has helped reunite families who are unaware of the hospitalization of their family members,” Mortell said.

When members were casting their votes, Rep. Selina Bliss (R – Yavapai) brought up how she has taught community college classes about the donor network, drawing on her experience as an emergency room nurse.

“As an emergency room nurse, [for] half of my 36 years as a nurse, I’ve been in situations where someone comes in with a head injury, a stroke—be it whatnot—they can’t identify themselves, or they’re unconscious,” Bliss said.  

She said that when deceased patients are identified there becomes an option for organ donation, and if the deceased person is a registered donor and the family agrees with the donation, that it’s beneficial for all involved.