March 18, 2009

Senators Introduce Bill to Protect Elderly from Predators in the Long-Term Care Workforce

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) were pleased to introduce today the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act to prevent those with criminal histories from working within long-term care settings by creating a comprehensive nationwide system of background checks. The legislation would expand a highly successful three-year pilot program, spearheaded by Kohl and authorized under the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, which prevented more than 7,000 applicants with a history of substantiated abuse or a violent criminal record from working with and preying upon frail elders and individuals with disabilities in long-term care settings. Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA) is expected to introduce a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill calls for states to establish coordinated systems that include checks against abuse and neglect registries and a state police check. It also adds a federal component to the background check process by screening applicants against the FBI’s national database of criminal history records. Thousands of individuals with a history of substantiated abuse or a criminal record are hired every year to work closely with exposed and defenseless seniors within our nation’s nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Because the current system of state-based background checks is haphazard, inconsistent, and full of gaping holes, predators can evade detection throughout the hiring process, securing jobs that allow them to assault, abuse, and steal from defenseless elders.

“We have hard evidence that this policy will work and will protect lives. It is vital that this legislation moves quickly, and I look forward to working with the Finance Committee, the elder justice community, and Congressman Sestak in the House to make that happen,” said Kohl.

“While the vast majority of professional caregivers are conscientious and dedicated, an unfortunate few are not, sometimes with tragic results,” said Collins. “Our legislation would help prevent the abuse and neglect of older persons living in nursing homes and other residential care settings as well as the elderly who are being cared for in their own homes.”

“Our seniors should never have to fear for their safety when they enter a long-term care facility,” said Whitehouse. “Expanding background checks for prospective caregivers will help ensure that our loved ones remain safe and secure.”

“We need to ensure that our country’s most vulnerable citizens are not the target of abuse and exploitation. This bill will expand on a successful program that has helped protect those in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities,” Bingaman said.

“It is critically important that we work to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable populations,” Levin said. “By permitting employers to perform background checks on nursing home employees and applicants, we can help to cut down on abuse of the elderly and individuals with disabilities in long-term care settings. Michigan is fortunate to have been the site of a pilot program that has proven very successful, and we are hoping to be able to expand this program across the country.”

“Background checks are useful tools to help keep Americans from being placed in harm’s way. This legislation will help protect many defenseless seniors and other residents of long-term care facilities against physical or financial abuse. I am committed to finding ways to prevent elder abuse and look forward to continuously working with my colleagues on this critical issue so that older adults and their families do not have to worry about the type of care they or their loved ones are receiving,” Lincoln said.

“We must ensure that individuals with records of abuse or violence are not allowed to care for those most vulnerable,” said Klobuchar. “Requiring comprehensive background checks is a common-sense solution to stop senseless abuse.”

“Protecting the health and safety of our most vulnerable citizens should be a top priority,” said Stabenow. “I am proud that much of this legislation is modeled after a successful Michigan pilot program and working together we can expand on its success.”

Last Congress, the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act was passed unanimously out of the Finance Committee. The reintroduced bill is cosponsored by Senators Kohl, Collins, John Kerry (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Carl Levin (D-MI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Evan Bayh (D-IN), and Thad Cochran (R-MS).

In July 2008, Kohl released an official Aging Committee print on the highly successful results of the aforementioned pilot program to conduct comprehensive background checks on long-term care workers in Alaska, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin. The states who participated in the pilot have all chosen to continue their programs at their own expense, and are taking additional steps to build on the success of the technological infrastructure they created. The Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act would expand these outstanding results nationwide by making it possible for all states to make these commonsense improvements.

The legislation was recently highlighted in PARADE Magazine and is strongly endorsed by State Attorneys General across the country, the Elder Justice Coalition, which speaks for over 500 member organizations; the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO); AARP; the American Health Care Association; NCCNHR; the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging; and advocates in hundreds of communities who work every day to protect the well-being of elders and individuals with disabilities.

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