Special Reports

Bill would require background checks for all nursing home employees

State Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, filed a bill Tuesday that would require criminal background checks for all employees of nursing homes.

Currently, the state requires such checks for nursing home and assisted living employees who care directly for residents, but not for staff such as custodians, maintenance and food service workers.

Bernie Vonderheide, founder of Kentuckians For Nursing Home Reform, said it doesn't make sense to conduct criminal background checks only on direct-care workers.

"All employees in an average nursing facility have easy access to every patient," he said.

Senate Bill 44 says no long-term care facility shall knowingly employ a person who has been convicted of a felony related to theft; abuse or sale of illegal drugs; abuse, neglect or exploitation of an adult; or a sexual crime. The bill requires that the background checks be made by the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

State-run long-term care facilities already make the checks that private facilities would be required to make under SB 44, Buford said.

One Lexington nursing home ran into trouble last year when an employee did not have a criminal background check.

In July 2010, the Herald-Leader reported that Lexington's Country Place nursing home hired a maintenance worker after he had been arrested for sexual solicitation of a minor and kept him on after he was placed on the state's sex offender registry.

A former nurse's aide at the facility sued the nursing home saying the employee, Fred Allen Leonard, had sexually harassed her and stalked her before he was suspended by the nursing home in May.

An official with Five Star Senior Living, the company that owned the nursing home, said at the time that there were no allegations that Leonard behaved improperly toward residents, and that once officials learned of Leonard's criminal conviction, he was fired.

Vonderheide said his group has attempted to change state law to include criminal background checks for all long-term care employees since 2000. But those bills failed because Kentucky's nursing home industry lobbied against them, he said.

Officials with the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities did not immediately return a telephone call and an e-mail asking for a response.

The bill says the facility can employ someone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor if the crime is not related to abuse, neglect or exploitation of an adult. It could also employ an applicant pending the receipt of information under the legislation.

The time has come, Buford said, to include all employees at Kentucky's long-term care facilities, which include nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

Such a move would not cost the state any money, he said.

Pennsylvania and Delaware are among the states that require background checks for all long-term care employees.

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