Nursing homes and many other health care providers will be required to obtain national criminal background checks on new employees and others who provide direct one-on-one care to elderly residents or patients, under an emergency regulation outgoing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear issued Friday.
Besides nursing homes, which have been the focus of concern about elder abuse, the regulation also applies to personal-care homes, intermediate care facilities, adult day health-care programs, assisted living communities, home health agencies, hospices, personal-services agencies, providers of home and community-based services, and staffing agencies, “including nursing pools that have contracts to provide staff to one or more of the listed employer types,” a state news release said.
Only 7 percent of those providers are using a voluntary system to do national, fingerprint-supported background checks, Cabinet for Health and Family Services spokeswoman Beth Fisher told Kentucky Health News.
“Protecting the elderly and other individuals residing in these facilities is not only important – it is our duty as state leaders,” Beshear said in the release. “All too often, these vulnerable citizens become victims of the very individuals who are supposed to be caring for them. This regulation, based upon a federal law allowing these background checks, will ensure we are able to thoroughly track the history of anyone who has committed such an offense, whether it occurred in Kentucky or out of state, and ensure they will not be working at health care facilities in the commonwealth.”
State law requires only name-based, Kentucky-specific background checks, “creating a loophole that allowed applicants seeking employment in these long-term care and other settings to hide criminal actions committed in other states,” the release said. “Meanwhile, the prevalence of alleged abuse or exploitation of seniors in these settings remained significant.”
The release said that since May 2014, over 2,600 complaints have been filed against long-term care providers, almost 30 percent directly related to suspected abuse or exploitation of residents. Requiring fingerprint-supported background checks means that “applicants will not be able to hide criminal actions committed in other states,” Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes said in the release. “National background checks are a critical initiative that dramatically improve the ability of long-term care and other providers to timely and accurately research the backgrounds of potential employees, ruling out individuals with histories of violence, abuse or exploitation that occurred in other states.”
The state has operated a fingerprint-supported vetting program since 2011, using federal grants. “This program . . . has now been fully tested by voluntary participants over the last 18 months, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive regarding its ease of use, cost effectiveness and speed,” CHFS Inspector General Maryellen Mynear said in the release. “Our office will assist providers as they apply for initial licensure or renew their existing license to ensure a smooth and timely transition to a national criminal background check program that meets the requirements of this regulation.”
The program usually returns results in 24 to 72 hours, compared to three or more weeks using the traditional, paper-based process, the release said. However, only 85 of the 1,267 providers who will be covered by the new rule use the voluntary program, CHFS spokeswoman Beth Fisher said.
Because the rule is in an emergency regulation, Republican Matt Bevin could revoke it after he becomes governor Dec. 8, but Beshear’s news release quoted Republican state Sen. Tom Buford of Nicholasville as saying, “I commend Gov. Steve Beshear for this action to provide protections for our senior citizens.”
State Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, said in the release, “I have been working on legislation to accomplish this for some time now and am very pleased Gov. Beshear has taken this step to further protect the elderly residents and patients.”
The release said the voluntary program “has performed more than 2,200 background checks and has screened out applicants who had been convicted of serious violent offenses in other states but had no criminal history in Kentucky.” The program’s website, http://chfs.ky.gov/os/oig/kares, contains provider enrollment information, general information for both providers and the public, frequently asked questions and links to related programs and content. Additional information is available via email to KARES.Helpdesk@ky.gov or by calling 502-564-2159.