Politics & Government

Kentucky nursing home bills failed to pass, but supporters will try again

FRANKFORT — Two key bills that supporters say would help protect nursing home residents and other vulnerable adults failed to pass again this legislative session — even though there was money in the budget to implement both measures.

Supporters plan to try again the next time the Kentucky legislature meets.

House Bill 73, a bill that would continue a criminal background check program for nursing home employees, was passed by the House but was never heard by a Senate committee. If a similar bill isn't passed in the 2014 session, the fingerprint background check program — currently paid for through a $3 million federal grant and an additional $1 million in state funds — will end after June 30, 2014.

Bills that would create a registry of workers who have had substantiated cases of adult abuse or neglect also failed to pass for the fourth straight year. Gov. Steve Beshear had earmarked $1.2 million in the 2012-2014 budget for the creation of the adult abuse registry.

State adult-protection workers can substantiate claims of abuse and neglect against an employee of a nursing home or a community-based program for the disabled, but there is no central registry of such findings that employers can check before they hire someone.

House Bill 367 and Senate Bill 100 would have created those registries. There is a similar registry for people who work with children.

House Bill 73 was passed by the full House but not without some debate on how much the bill would cost the state after the federal money runs dry in 2014.

Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, who sponsored HB 73, said the background checks cost a little less than $40 each.

The nursing home and other long-term care providers could pay for the cost or pass it to the employee. That cost could be spread across several paychecks for lower-wage employees.

Before the implementation of the fingerprint background check, the paper criminal background checks queried only Kentucky criminal databases. If someone had committed a crime in another state, it was not detected.

Beshear had created the fingerprint background check program in 2011 after the state received the $3 million federal grant to start the program.

"We do a state background check on name only," Rollins said.

"If I use a different name, it wouldn't catch a criminal charge. This program is also reoccurring. So after they are hired, they can make sure that they haven't gotten into any trouble."

Rollins said he will propose the bill again in the 2014 legislative session. But it may face an uphill battle.

"The nursing home and the hospital associations are some of the strongest lobbies we have in Frankfort," said Rollins.

But Ruby Jo Cummings Lubarsky, president of the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities, which represents nursing homes and long-term care centers, said the group did not oppose the criminal background check bill or the adult abuse registry.

"Contrary to what some may say, KAHCF did not oppose any of these bills," Lubarsky said. "The record will reflect that we did not testify or issue any public statements regarding these bills prior to or during the past legislative session."

The adult abuse registry has been pushed by parents, employers and advocates for the mentally disabled since 2010, but it has run into roadblocks because of concerns about cost.

Beshear backed a similar bill in 2012, and he included the $1.2 million for the establishment of the registry in his most recent two-year budget.

The House passed House Bill 367 96-0. Senate Bill 100, a companion bill in the Senate, stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee after an attempt to add an amendment to the bill that would exempt nursing homes and intermediate care centers, such as Oakwood, from checking the registry before hiring an employee. The amendment and the bill never cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Lubarsky said those who have pushed for the registry have never asked for the nursing home industry's input.

There already are a lot of checks and balances for screening of nursing home employees, she said. Nursing homes are prohibited from hiring anyone who appears on the nurse aide abuse registry.

Lubarsky also said that the law requires only that nursing homes get background checks on those who provide direct care to patients, but "most, if not all, long-term care facilities perform criminal background checks on all their employees," Lubarsky said.

Advocates, however, say the nurse's aide registry does not include all employees. Not everyone who has had a substantiated case of abuse or neglect involving a vulnerable adult is a nurse's aide, they say.

Advocates say they're frustrated that the adult abuse registry bill has failed to pass. They say they will push for the bill's passage again in 2014.

"The bottom line is that there is money now available for both of these programs," said Marsha Hockensmith, executive director of Kentucky Protection and Advocacy, a state agency that advocates for the disabled and mentally ill.

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