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Should convicted felons be allowed to work in nursing homes?

Published on October 27th, 2009

The Sun-Sentinel had a scary story about convicted felons working in Florida’s nursing homes.  The articles states that Florida seniors and disabled adults too frail to live on their own have been beaten, neglected and robbed by caregivers with criminal records. More than 3,500 people with criminal records — including rape, robbery and murder — have been hired to work at nursing homes.  Hundreds more slipped through because employers failed to check their backgrounds or kept them on the job despite their criminal past.

Florida has a patchwork of controls for checking caregivers of the elderly that seems to put more emphasis on protecting against embezzlement than safeguarding patients. Inconsistencies in state law are glaring — facility owners, administrators and people who handle money require a nationwide FBI check, but not employees caring for patients. With some exceptions, they are checked only for crimes in Florida.

Under Florida law, certain crimes disqualify someone from working with seniors or the disabled unless they obtain an exemption by showing evidence of rehabilitation. Until this year, the disqualifying offenses did not include financial crimes that can lead to abuse and exploitation. An expanded list takes effect Thursday — eight years after a committee of prosecutors and state regulators recommended adding crimes such as burglary, fraud and forgery.

Patients and their families have no way of checking employees’ criminal histories. Personnel files are confidential, as they are for any private business.  State inspectors are supposed to ensure screening requirements are met but inspect nursing homes on average only once a year and assisted living facilities every other year. Inspection data shows the system fails to weed out employees with disqualifying records and is slow to remove them once hired.

"When you’re under the gun of trying to find a place for your relative and they’re in the hospital and they’re dying, it’s the last thing on your mind as to whether it’s a safe facility," he said. "You assume with the state regulating them, that’s a given."
 

Joe Pioletti
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