Legislature should do better by nursing home residents

There's been a rush to declare a new day of bipartisanship in Frankfort following the impressive and refreshing accomplishments of the legislative session that just ended.

That may be true but it's important to remember that legislators can work across the aisle to defeat good legislation as easily as to pass it. And that seems to have been the sad fate, for another year, of two very sensible, and inexpensive, efforts to protect nursing home residents.

One measure would have extended a program, currently paid for with federal dollars, to do fingerprint background checks on nursing home employees. If the legislature doesn't take action by next year, the program will end. The checks cost about $40 per employee, a cost that could be borne by the nursing home, the employee or both. That passed the House but was never heard in the Senate.

Without the fingerprint check, all that's required is a state criminal check using an individual's name. If an applicant committed a crime in another state, or under a different name, the nursing home wouldn't have that information.

Another measure, that would have created a registry of workers with substantiated histories of adult abuse or neglect, failed to pass for the fourth straight year. Reporter Beth Musgrave noted in Wednesday's Herald-Leader that Gov. Steve Beshear had already set aside $1.2 million to create the registry, so passing it would not have involved a new appropriation. The House version passed 96-0 but the Senate version stalled in committee when an amendment that would have weakened it substantially was introduced. A similar registry already exists for people who work with children.

Although the nursing home industry, which spends a lot on legislative efforts, did not openly oppose the measures, Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, who sponsored one of them, chalked the failure up to the industry's influence. "The nursing home and the hospital associations are some of the strongest lobbies we have in Frankfort," he said.

Ruby Jo Cummings Lubarsky, president of the organization that represents the industry, was telling in her statement of the industry's position: "We did not testify or issue any public statements regarding these bills,"

Sadly, it appears they didn't have to. Perhaps next year, when supporters say both measures will be offered again, this new, improved General Assembly will do the right thing and take action to protect vulnerable seniors.