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Senate bill calls for background checks for all long-term care staff

In Kentucky, nursing homes and assisted-living homes have to conduct criminal background checks only on employees, such as nurses, who provide direct care to residents.

On Thursday, Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, prefiled legislation for the 2012 General Assembly that would require criminal background checks for all long-term care employees, including janitors and dining room workers.

A lawsuit filed in 2010 in Fayette Circuit Court revealed that a Lexington nursing home had hired a registered sex offender as a maintenance worker.

The legislation would prohibit employment by a long-term care center, a nursing facility, or an assisted-living community of anyone convicted of a felony offense related to theft; abuse or sale of illegal drugs; abuse, neglect, or exploitation of an adult; or a sexual crime.

Buford said he filed the legislation in light of a number of cases in Kentucky in which nursing home employees have taken not only financial advantage of residents "but also physical, sexual, emotional advantage of them."

Bernie Vonderheide, founder of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, said his group had lobbied for at least five years for a law that would require background checks for all employees. He praised Buford for filing the legislation.

"It's important because it affects the quality of the people taking care of our elderly population," Vonderheide said.

Buford filed similar legislation, Senate Bill 44, in the 2011 General Assembly, and it failed. Buford said that could be because some lawmakers misunderstood the bill.

Buford said nursing-home industry representatives have told him that they don't oppose the legislation.

Officials with the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities did not return emails or a telephone call Monday asking for comment.

In June, Kentucky received a $3 million federal grant to conduct criminal background checks, using digital fingerprints instead of name-based background checks only, on employees who provide direct care.

Buford said he would eventually amend his legislation to reflect that digital background checks should be used for all employees of long-term care centers.

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