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Almost All Nursing Homes Employ a Worker With a Criminal Background

In a study released by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, almost all nursing homes employ at least one person with a criminal conviction in his or her background – 92% percent of nursing homes to be exact. Almost half of the homes employed five or more individuals with a criminal history.

An official in Connecticut said he doesn't think the report reflects the situation at nursing homes here.

"I don't believe that is Connecticut's experience," said Matthew Barrett, executive vice president of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities. "I believe we're doing better than what is represented in this report."

Barrett said though he has no data to support his claims that there's reason to believe facilities in Connecticut are less likely to employ those with a criminal record. He said nursing homes in Connecticut, and the Northeast in general tend to offer solid benefits packages and other perks that would be more likely to attract a higher caliber of qualified applicants.
But others say the report points to alarming gaps in the system.

According to the report, about 84 percent of nursing home workers who had convictions had their most recent criminal incident prior to their employment at the facility. The majority of these prior convictions, 44 percent to be exact, were for crimes against property, such as burglary, shoplifting and writing bad checks. About 20 percent were DUI convictions; roughly 16 percent were for drug offenses; and about 13 percent were for crimes against persons.

Federal regulations prohibit Medicare and Medicaid nursing facilities from employing people found guilty of nursing home abuse or neglect, or other forms of mistreatment to patients. They also prohibit those facilities from hiring anyone who has had a finding entered into the state nurse aide registry concerning abuse, neglect or mistreatment or residents or the misappropriation of their property. The data collected in this study doesn't confirm whether any of the facilities studied violated the regulations.

However, the study brings questions forward regarding the importance of criminal background checks on nursing home employees. Most states have instituted their own requirements, even though there is no federal law or regulation requiring nursing facilities to perform background checks.

According to the report, there are eight states, including Connecticut, that have no such requirements. Of the states that do have requirements, 10 require an FBI criminal background check as well as a statewide background check. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia only require a statewide check.

State Department of Public Health spokesman William Gerrish confirmed that nursing homes in the state aren't required to do background checks on employees, except for nursing home administrators.

However, he said, most long-term care facilities do conduct such checks on their own.

Barrett said members of the nursing home generally conduct background checks of employees to prevent the hiring of any individual who might be a danger to residents. An individual is typically not hired if strange convictions arise in the check.

Mag Morelli, president of the Connecticut Association of Not For Profit Providers for the Aging, said all 130 facilities in her membership also do their own background checks.

Even though there are precautions taken for nursing home workers in these facilities, some people believe there is just too much uncertainty in the system on both a state and national level. State director of AARP Connecticut Brenda Kelley said the current system supposedly allows workers with a criminal background who are denied employment in one certain facility or state, to simply bounce to another location.

As an element of the national health care reform bill, states have the opportunity to receive grant money in order to design background check programs for employees of nursing homes and other long-term care agencies. Connecticut received a $1.9 million grant through the program to create a program of this kind.

Gerrish said the funds are a step in the right direction to provide quality care to our elders. "When this is done, it will be another safeguard in place to protect residents," Gerrish said.