WASHINGTON – Rep. Constance A. Morella on Wednesday called for government-mandated criminal background checks of nursing home employees and other long-term care workers to help stop the physical abuse of elderly patients.
“It is unconscionable that people with criminal records or histories of elder abuse are hired to care for our elderly population,” the Montgomery County Republican said.
Morella and Rep. Joseph Kennedy, D-Mass., plan to introduce this month the Elder Care Safety Act of 1997, which would require the background checks and set up a national registry of abusive long-term care workers.
Maryland has required background checks for the past 18 months, but Morella said the problem is there is no nationwide requirement. Furthermore, she said, there is no coordination of information among states.
The registry would include the names of those convicted of abuse against nursing home residents and those fired after being accused of abuse.
Rev. Richard Reichard, director of the National Lutheran Home for the Aged in Rockville, said the nursing home has done checks on 83 applicants since last year and six had criminal records.
Reichard, representing the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, said the checks would be a useful tool for the industry.
He said the association was not in favor of background checks for volunteers, however, because it “could stifle their willingness to become involved with our residents.” A Senate version of the measure covers volunteers.
The legislation also calls for a grant program to fund preventive training for health care workers and for a study on the effects of overwork on health care professionals.
“Nurse aides and health care staff turn over at high rates due to burnout and a lack of training,” Morella told the Older American Caucus. “Therefore, many nursing homes and health facilities endanger patients because they are inadequately staffed.”
State officials said awareness is the problem.
Abuse is “definitely under-identified and under-reported,” said Patricia Bayliss, state long-term care ombudsman at the Maryland Office on Aging.
The state established the Abuse is Wrong at Any Age campaign in 1994, which includes a hot line for reporting cases of suspected abuse in institutions and the community.
Between April and September of 1996, the Maryland Office on Aging received 443 reports of alleged resident abuse.
Since 1989, the state’s attorney general’s office opened 189 investigations into long-term care abuse and has prosecuted 57 cases, said Catherine Schuster Pascale, assistant attorney general for the Medicare Fraud Control Unit. The unit has jurisdiction over only Medicaid-funded institutions.
In 1995, 6,000 complaints of abuse in nursing home were fielded by state long-term care ombudsmen across the country, said the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform.
The Clinton administration has not announced a position on the legislation, said Moya Thompson, a U.S. Administration on Aging spokeswoman.