Back in 2010, Florida’s then-Gov. Charlie Crist signed a law that required background checks for seniors, the disabled and children.
Parkland nursing home abuse lawyers know that it passed unanimously by the Legislature, and employees in Florida nursing home facilities have to pass a nationwide background check before they can start work.
However, subsequent research by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that more than 90 percent of nursing home facilities across the country employ at least one worker with a criminal conviction.
The department conducted its research by obtaining the names of more than 35,000 nursing home employees. They then ran those names through the criminal database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine whether they had a criminal record.
That same study further revealed that almost 50 percent of all nursing homes across the country had five or more employees with at least one criminal conviction. In a startling example, one facility that had approximately 165 workers had nearly 35 workers who had at least one criminal conviction on their record. That’s a rate of 21 percent, and could potentially leave a huge gap in the level of care for our most vulnerable residents.
The study did not break down state-by-state data of the findings, but noted that of the states involved in the research, 10 had federal background check requirements and another 33 had state background check requirements. The rest had no specified requirements for background checks.
Prior to Gov. Crist’s signing of the law in 2010, Florida was among those states that required a state-wide check. But obviously such a search wouldn’t pick up convictions – often for serious offenses – handed down in other states. As of yet, there is no federal law mandating such checks.
The hope of course is that now the system is much better-equipped to catch potential nursing home predators, but of course, no method is full-proof. For example, such a check wouldn’t necessarily pick up an arrest for a felony crime – only a conviction. As any defense attorney will tell you, having a good lawyer can make it easy to beat the rap, particularly if the alleged victims were older and suffered some form of dementia.
In this study, of those who did have criminal convictions, their crimes varied. Nearly 45 percent had committed some form of property crime, such as vandalism, theft or writing bad checks. Another 15 percent or so had convictions for drug-related crimes. Roughly 13 percent had convictions for crimes against people – and those included sexual assaults and other similar offenses.
In most cases, the convictions occurred prior to landing employment at the nursing home. But in 16 percent of cases, employees had convictions after they started working at the facility. What that means is that even pre-employment background screenings won’t stop these individuals from landing a job in a nursing home, and law enforcement isn’t required to notify employers if a worker has been arrested. Most facilities likely don’t have the resources to periodically check on their own.
Federal laws do bar nursing homes from hiring someone who has been convicted of neglecting, abusing or otherwise mistreating a patient. The problem is that FBI records don’t always show who the victim was. It’s up to employers to dig deeper into a conviction to learn what really happened. They don’t always do that.
The bottom line is that while we’re in better shape than we were a few years ago, family members can’t afford to be lax in following up on their loved ones’ care. While you won’t likely be able to background check all the employees your relative comes in contact with, you can press the facility about how they conduct theirs. And always keep a close eye out for possible abuse or neglect.
Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.