Kentucky regulators seek to make mandatory new background checks for long-term care workers

FRANKFORT — The Beshear administration plans to ask state lawmakers next year to make mandatory a new, multi-state background check program for workers in long-term care settings.

The mandatory program can't come soon enough, a Lancaster father told a legislative panel Tuesday in relaying how his 24-year-old autistic, non-verbal son was assaulted in 2010 by a staff member at a day-care program.

But James Aneszko, senior vice president of the eldercare program Home Instead Senior Care, said making the program mandatory would present an economic hardship on consumers and make it more difficult for long-term care facilities and programs to find help.

The legislature's Administrative Regulation and Review Subcommittee signed off Tuesday on a new regulation by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services' Office of Inspector General that would add voluntary FBI fingerprint criminal background checks to the currently required state checks for persons seeking employment in long-term care settings.

The new program — called Kentucky Applicant Registry and Employment Screening Program, or KARES — is designed to help reduce the potential for abuse, neglect or exploitation of elderly and vulnerable adults, said Eric Friedlander, the cabinet's deputy secretary.

The program recently started in the state and its first 36,000 background checks are free, he said. It is available because of a $3 million federal grant to the state.

Under the program, applicants seeking employment in long-term care work in Kentucky will no longer be able to hide criminal actions committed in other states, Friedlander said.

Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, said the new program is "a valuable tool to help Kentucky's most needy," but he asked Friedlander why it is not mandatory.

Friedlander said the cabinet thinks it has the statuatory authority to make the program voluntary, but that legislation is needed to make it mandatory. He added that the cabinet will ask the 2014 General Assembly that begins in January to make the program mandatory.

Bernie Vonderheide, president and founder of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, said in a phone interview that the program will not work until it is mandatory.

"Nursing homes won't implement it on their own," he said. "They always try to hold on to every dime they can without considering their patients."

Senior Care official Aneszko noted that the federal grant is limited. He said his business is looking for responsible employees, but making the program mandatory will mean its costs eventually will be passed on to consumers.

The cost for each new FBI check will be about $63, said Aneszko, noting that the current cost in Kentucky for a background check is between $20 and $30. He also said it is "very challenging" to attract help.

"This added FBI step, which will take 48 hours to seven days to complete, will make some of our potential applicants look for other jobs," he said, noting his business sometimes has to hire people quickly.

But Harold Barlow, whose autistic son who can't talk was assaulted in 2010 in a day-care program in Somerset, said people who have loved ones in a long-term care setting should know that workers taking care of them have never been involved in a serious crime.

In other business, the legislative panel reviewing state regulations on Tuesday considered three regulations of the state health cabinet dealing with health benefit exchanges. They are the online marketplace of insurance companies that started Oct. 1 under the new federal health care law.

Sen. Sara Beth Gregory, R-Monticello, made a motion to declare the regulations deficient, saying no state law authorizes them. That is an argument frequently made by Republicans who oppose the law backed by President Obama.

Officials with the state's exchange program said their regulations were valid because Gov. Steve Beshear had implemented them this year under the federal law.

Gregory argued that a governor's order is not statutory. The panel voted 3-2 on party lines to support Gregory's motion, but it failed because at least five supporting votes were needed to approve it.