Is the Nurse Taking Care of Mom a Criminal?

Criminal background check application form

When you entrust your loved ones to caregivers, how can you know whether they’re in safe hands? There’s no way to be sure unless the nursing home followed both state and federal law and conducted caregiver criminal history checks when hiring new nurses and aides.

The Importance of Background Checks

Our elderly — especially those in nursing homes, hospice, and home care settings — can be vulnerable and frail. This makes them potential targets for abuse and exploitation. To help ensure some measure of safety for our seniors, state and federal laws require background checks for many healthcare workers.

Statewide background checks are typically conducted by the state law enforcement agency. They include information for crimes committed within that particular state. For an FBI background check, a state law enforcement agency provides the FBI with an individual’s identifying information and fingerprints. Then the FBI checks the person against its criminal background database, which includes information on both federal crimes and state-reported crimes form all states.

But are employers at nursing homes, hospices, and assisted living facilities complying with these requirements? Should there be improvements?

How Federal Funding Can Help

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (widely known as the ACA, or Obamacare) granted money to states to institute background check programs for potential employees who provide bedside care to patients in several types of long-term-care settings. The program has three parts: obtaining legislative authority to begin a program, collecting background data such as fingerprints, and continuously monitoring criminal history data.

The US Department of Health and Human Services recently published an interim report on the National Background Check Program for Long-Term Care Employees. During the first four years of the program, the results are a mixed bag. Twenty-five states received grants. Yet only six states submitted sufficient data to determine how effective the background checks were at weeding out questionable hires. The report goes on to say that another eight states submitted insufficient data and eleven states submitted no data.

Measuring Progress in Ohio

How did Ohio fare with caregiver criminal history screening? Ohio’s grant began in April 2013. So far, our state has enacted legislation to conduct background checks and instituted the ability to collect fingerprints. Ohio has only used 45 percent of the funds provided by the grant. Disappointingly, Ohio was not a leader in reporting its data to the Office of Inspector General.

We can and should be doing better. Ohio has taken the first important steps, but we need to follow through. What could be more important than ensuring that the people taking care of our family members aren’t criminals?