Just last summer,, the receptionist at a nursing home in Florida was caught stealing money from the accounts of four residents.
At about the same time, an occupational therapist at a nursing home in Louisville was caught in an identify-theft scheme that cost residents nearly $100,000.
Reports aren't clear on whether either of these incidents involved employees who had no criminal background checks made on them before they were hired. But the employee in Louisville had an extensive criminal record, leaving one to assume that no check was made.
In Kentucky, the law on this lacks full force. It says that criminal background checks must be done on any prospective employee who will provide direct care. The key word in the law is direct. These are the people like registered nurses and certified nursing assistants.
But someone like a receptionist, janitor, maintenance worker, even cooks — who technically do not provide direct care — could avoid background checks and work in a nursing home with easy access to vulnerable residents.
Many nursing homes are conscientious about background checks and do them on all employees. But there are facilities that, because of the cost involved in getting a background check simply take a chance.
Some nursing homes say that another reason they don't do background checks is that the process takes too long when they need to fill a position right away. And that's how bad guys can slip through and have access to vulnerable people.
The problem can be solved and the law tightened up in this 2011 session of the state legislature. Sen. Tom Buford, R- Nicholasville, has introduced a bill that will require all nursing-home employees to pass a criminal background check.
Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, tried to fix the law last year, but her bill was amended to cover hiring in only facilities owned, managed or operated by the state Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services.
Protecting nursing-home residents also has caught the eye of others who want to improve the state's background check system. The state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, to its credit, has applied for a $3 million federal grant to streamline the background check system in Kentucky.
By adding a million dollars in matching money from the state, for a total of $4 million, the new statewide system will use live scan equipment and technology to collect fingerprints at easily accessible sites.
It is ironic, however, that even the feds, in all their Washington wisdom, slip up. The new system they will fund through the grant falls into the same trap as current Kentucky law in that it covers only "direct patient access employees."
Coming on the heels of revelations by the Herald-Leader's hard-hitting series of articles on abuse and neglect in nursing homes, the bill being introduced by Buford could not come at a better time.
A lot of the harm to nursing home patients has been caused by persons with criminal records who should never have been hired in the first place.
It also is heartening to learn that other lawmakers are working on legislation to keep workers with bad records out of nursing homes, as well as other settings where they provide personal services. Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington, Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, and Denton have introduced similar measures on setting up a registry of persons who have abused adults.
Harper Angel has introduced a bill that would establish a registry for persons providing personal care services, such as homecare for the elderly.
We call this progress, but time will tell if all our legislators and state officials agree to help.