Legislation requiring nursing homes to conduct criminal background checks on their employees got a push forward last week with the findings of a federal report: Nearly one in 20 nursing home employees in two states had been convicted of a crime.
The HHS' inspector general's office said its findings show the need for a nationwide system to identify and exclude workers who could exploit or abuse patients. The inspector general called current safeguards, largely instituted by states, a "patchwork."
Released last week at a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, the inspector general's report dealt with the criminal background of employees at eight randomly selected Maryland nursing homes receiving Medicaid or Medicare, and at nursing homes in Illinois.
Of 1,068 Maryland employees whose records were reviewed, 51 had been convicted of a crime.
In Illinois, a state requirement that nursing homes conduct criminal background checks on 21,000 employees turned up 975 current or prospective nurses' aides who have been convicted of crimes that disqualify them from working with nursing home residents.
President Clinton supports requiring criminal background checks. In July he sent a package of proposals on nursing home quality to Capitol Hill. However, a bill is not expected anytime soon.
Nursing home operators have urged the federal government to build a national criminal records database for nursing homes. Entering an individual's name and Social Security number would reveal a criminal record.
Although 33 states require criminal background checks, some experts note that abusive employees can circumvent state systems. They might take jobs in long-term-care facilities not covered by a state's reporting regulations, such as assisted living. They might cross state lines to find jobs once they have been convicted of crimes or reported as abusive in one state. Or they might take non-patient-care jobs in housekeeping or food service when state safeguards cover only nursing staff.