Kentucky to Require Nationwide Criminal Background Check for New Nursing Home Employees

To help combat the growing problem of elder abuse and neglect in Kentucky care facilities, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear last Friday signed an emergency regulation to require a nationwide background criminal check for new employees working in these facilities. Beginning January 1, 2016, the new regulation will require all elder care facilities or those providing care to the elderly and disabled in Kentucky, to run a nationwide background check on all new employees through an electronic fingerprinting check with the FBI.

The new regulation is an attempt to close a legal loophole allowing people convicted of crimes in other states to apply for employment without the fear of their past crimes being discovered. Current Kentucky law requires only that facilities run a state criminal background check in Kentucky thereby allowing potential employees with prior criminal records in other states to escape detection. The new regulation will require mandatory nationwide criminal background screening of all new employees, thereby closing this loophole.

The electronic background check system known as KARES (Kentucky Applicant Registry and Employment Screening) currently has 35 fingerprint locations in the Commonwealth, which will double to 70 locations thanks to a $689,000 federal grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which will be used to purchase an additional 35 electronic fingerprint machines. The new system will be more efficient and more accurate for several reasons:

  • Faster response: KARES can complete a criminal background check in 48 to 72 hours rather than a two to three week response time
  • More accurate: Access to FBI fingerprint database allows a more accurate and thorough background check
  • Up-to-date information: new feature will report back to the state if an employee who first passes a background check, is later convicted of a crime that would preclude employment in an elder care facility or facility will vulnerable patients
  • One-stop checkpoint: Provides a single source to check all nationwide abuse registries including child abuse and sex offender registry.

The emergency regulation will apply to about 1300 facilities or programs in the Commonwealth, and will be a condition of receiving or renewing a license to operate. The regulation applies to intermediate care facilities, assisted living communities, hospice program, elderly staffing and medical staffing employment agencies, home health and visiting nurses programs, and adult day cares, among others.

Why is this necessary? Since May 2014, more than 2600 complaints have been filed against elder care facilities, with almost 30% of those involving allegations of elder abuse or exploitation. 1 in 3 Kentucky facilities has serious deficiencies according to the Nursing Home Inspect report, and Kentucky facilities have been fined over $11.2 million because of those deficiencies over the last 3 years. http://projects.propublica.org/nursing-homes/state/KY

The new regulation requiring a nationwide criminal background check and the KARES fingerprint check through the FBI database are critical tools to fight the ongoing battle to combat elder abuse and neglect. As Beth Fischer from the Cabinet of Health and Family Services explained, “It’s a very vulnerable population. A lot of times when you see elder abuse and elder neglect it is at the hands of health care providers at these types of facilities. So this was needed.”

Since the new rules take effect January 1, 2016, after Beshear leaves office and Governor-elect Matt Bevin is inaugurated, we hope the new administration will see that the regulation is not impinging on the ability of nursing homes to do business in the Commonwealth, but is a critical tool in protecting the safety and well-being of our elderly and disabled citizens. “Protecting the elderly and other individuals residing in these facilities is not only important – it is our duty as state leaders,” said Beshear. We could not agree more.