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When researching nursing homes for a loved one, you look for a place where he or she will be in good hands. A responsive staff, clean facilities and no reports of negligence or abuse are often at the top of the list. Yet, a recent report from WFAA in Dallas, Texas found that criminals are being hired to provide care at a significant percentage of state nursing facilities.

Findings of the Study

Investigators looked at data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for Texas, where the patient abuse rate is almost four times the national average. In the process, they uncovered one concerning fact: Individuals with a violent history of crime – including abuse, sexual assault and robbery – are able to find work as certified nursing assistants (CNAs). In the state’s northern region, about 200 aides legally eligible to work as CNAs fit this profile.

How The Process Works

elderly woman and daughter upsetSpecifically, WFAA found that Texas has a loophole. Individuals can plead guilty to a range of violent crimes – even elder abuse – and still become certified as a nursing aide, with no questions asked.

While some are looking to turn their lives around, having such offenders around may lead to more abuse charges. As WFAA pointed out in its report, such instances involved physical abuse and patients testing positive for STDs. Although nursing homes fire the aides after abuse comes to light, the damage has already been done.

Where Else Does This Occur?

Texas is not the only state where nursing homes hire CNAs with criminal charges. In 2011, a report from the Inspector General for Health and Human Services found that 90 percent of nursing homes nationally hire individuals with some kind of criminal history. Although violent crimes are included, over 40 percent pleaded guilty to lesser offenses, like writing bad checks or shoplifting.

To complete this report, the Inspector General ran FBI background checks on 35,000 workers employed at 260 nursing facilities. Results indicated that over 90 percent of these nursing homes hired at least one worker with a criminal past and half of all facilities had at least five employees with such history. Of all individuals screened, seven registered sex offenders managed to find work at five separate facilities.

How Do Criminals Get Hired?

In many cases, nursing homes do not intentionally hire criminals. Rather, an insufficient background check process is often behind the lapse in judgement:

  • Only 43 states require nursing homes to conduct a criminal background check. Ten require state and FBI background checks, which identify if an applicant has committed crimes in other states.
  • Many homes use the state background check only. A former criminal can go to a different state, change names and get work as a nursing home employee.
  • How homes evaluate criminal pasts varies by state or even by facility. Nursing homes may make their own decisions in some cases or a state agency may be in charge of the process.
  • Homes do not always follow federal rules, according to a New York Times report. Specifically, federal rules state that nursing homes must not employ individuals who have previously neglected, abused or otherwise mistreated patients. Background checks do not always indicate if the elderly individual was a patient, but for 16 percent of nursing home employees with such convictions, the abuse often occurred on the job.
  • Homes may only do background checks for CNAs and others who work directly with patients. As a result, those who do housekeeping or food service may never be screened.
  • Due to low staffing, a CNA with a criminal history may be left alone with multiple patients, which can make it easy to abuse or steal from them.

Has your loved one been physically or financially abused in a nursing home? At Trantolo & Trantolo, we believe these facilities need to be held responsible for whom they hire to provide care. To speak with one of our nursing home attorneys, contact us today.