Last month we posted about an investigative report aired on the Today Show about assisted living facility employees who were not required by law to undergo employment background checks that had abused or stolen from those they were charged with caring. I just read a similar story out of New York, except this time, the focus was on home health care workers neglecting and sexually assaulting elderly patients.
On Thursday an employee of the Cambridge Guest Home was arrested and charged with 31 counts of Endangering the Welfare of an Incompetent or Physically Disabled Person after police say residents pulled the fire alarm because they could not locate her. Firefighters later found the woman sound asleep in a locked room of the home. According to police the employee, Kelly Hirayama-Watkins, also had previous problems with the law that include drug possession and a DWI arrest. Earlier in the year an employee at the Loudonville Home for Adults was found guilty of having inappropriate contact with a 91 year-old resident. The employee was a registered level- 3 sex offender. Currently there is no law requiring adult homes, such as the ones in Loudonville and Cambridge, to do background checks on the employees they hire.
This is truly shameful and wholly avoidable. In both of these cases, a criminal background check would have highlighted past indiscretions that should have given the employer pause before putting their clients in harm’s way. And while I believe that most employers in the healthcare industry have the good sense to conduct comprehensive background checks (in fact many are mandated to do so by law), then perhaps it’s time for regulation to require this.
Generally, I’m not a big fan of regulation, but in this instance, I don’t see a difference between requiring a school to conduct background checks and requiring them of those who care for elderly patients. The key difference though is that the government should look at the holes in the states’ and federal government’s inability to provide a comprehensive background check and instead rely on reputable background screening companies to do the heavy lifting.
We’ve worked with a number of companies in the home health care industry (check out our case study with Hospice Compassus) over the years and have some recommendations for those in that space:
- Perform a comprehensive criminal background check in all counties where your job candidate has lived under each name they’ve used.
- Make sure that your background screening provider searches both upper and lower courts and goes back as far as federal and state laws allow.
- Conduct a National Criminal Database search to identify any potential criminal activity which has taken place outside of the counties you are searching.
- Conduct a Sex Offender Registry Check
- Contact past employers to ensure your job candidate has been truthful about their experience