Hot Topic: Nursing Homes for Sex Offenders & Violent Offenders

MI- Editorial: Protect patients at care facilities

5-8-2009 Michigan:

Congress should pass legislation to prevent criminals from securing jobs in long-term care fields. Those looking to abuse and steal from senior citizens should have to work harder at it than just filling out a job application at a nursing home. The bill would require a comprehensive nationwide program for background checks before a job could be given to anyone seeking elder-care employment. There is an unprecedented demand for long-term care housing because Americans are living longer. That has created more need for caregivers. More protection is needed to safeguard vulnerable residents from those who could do them harm.

While most states like Michigan require background checks for employees of long-term care facilities, there is no national or coordinated database that provides a thorough review of an applicant's criminal history. Too often predators, who frequently change states and jobs, have been able to evade detection because state-based background check systems, overall, are incomplete and inconsistent.

The bill introduced in Congress (HR 2223) by Rep. Joseph Sestak, D-PA and co-sponsored by Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids and Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, calls for states to establish a cross-referencing system for national and state background checks of prospective employees. The checks would be applied to those people with direct access to patients in the long-term care facilities. Federal matching funds would be provided to help states pay for the system.

State information would be coordinated and applicants screened against the Federal Bureau of Investigation's criminal history database.

This legislation seeks to expand on a seven-state background check pilot program that included Michigan, operated between 2005 and 2007. Checks were done either statewide or for a few counties. As a result of that pilot, administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, more than 7,200 people with criminal histories of violence or abuse were prevented from working as caregivers.

Mr. Ehlers said the pilot has proved successful in Michigan, and he is dead-on about a national background system providing "safety and peace-of-mind to people staying in these facilities, and their families." There needs to be some faith that those entrusted to care for a person or his loved one is not going to kill, beat, rape or rob that person. This bill would be a big step in achieving that confidence. Kent County has 25 licensed long-term care facilities (2,560 beds) and Ottawa County has 14 facilities (908 beds).

There is a strong case for this measure. Besides the pilot program, a 2006 Health and Human Services (HHS) study points out several challenges of individual state registries. In addition, a 2004 national survey of State Adult Protective Services agencies identified more than 500,000 reports of elder abuse, including physical, sexual and financial exploitation.

In 2005, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox reported that 25 percent of residential care facility employees committing crimes against residents since 2002 had past criminal convictions. His statewide investigation revealed criminal histories that included homicides, armed robberies and criminal sexual conduct. This led to a law that took effect in April 2006, making it a crime not to conduct a criminal background check. The law mandates fingerprint checks and expands the number of crimes that can disqualify a job applicant, including drug and theft offenses. These are important safeguards, but the FBI screening and enhanced state-to-state information from a national database would bolster protections in the state.

America's baby boomers are beginning to turn 65. People who reach that age have a 40 percent chance of entering a nursing home, according to HHS. Those who do will stay there five years or more. According to the Census Bureau, 10.3 percent of Kent County's population was 65 or older in 2007, 10.7 percent of Ottawa County's and 12.7 percent statewide.

The bottom line is that the current background check system is not thorough enough, and allows criminals to slip through. Congress knows that. Now lawmakers need to do something about it so the elderly and disabled are not easy prey for shady characters. ..Source.. Opinion of Grand Rapids Press Editorial Board

No comments: