Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, and Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) today announced that their Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act (S.1577) has been passed by unanimous consent by the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance.
If approved by the full Senate, the bill would prevent those with criminal histories from working within long-term care settings by creating a comprehensive nationwide system of background checks.
"Today we are one step closer to passing a bill to give vulnerable seniors and their families the protection and peace of mind they deserve," said Kohl. "The Finance Committee's seal of approvalmuch like the overwhelming vote in favor of the budget amendment we passed in Marchaffirms the importance of this legislation. It is vital that S.1577 receive a full Senate vote before we adjourn again."
"This bill is an important step in providing the safeguards needed to prevent abuse and mistreatment by those who care for our elderly and disabled. I am pleased the Finance Committee has approved the bill, which I hope the Senate will pass during this legislative session," Domenici said.
S.1577 calls for states to establish coordinated systems that include checks against abuse and neglect registries and a state police check. It also adds a federal component to the background check process by screening applicants against the FBI's national database of criminal history records.
Under the disorganized, patchwork system of background checks that exists in most other states, employers trying to hire caregivers are not always able to determine whether applicants have records of abuse or a history of committing violent crimes-particularly if an applicant has a criminal record in another state. As a result, predators can be hired to take care of our most vulnerable citizens, working in nursing facilities and private residences where some cause enormous harm.
On July 31, Kohl released an official Aging Committee print on the successful results and "lessons learned" of a seven-state pilot program to conduct comprehensive background checks on long-term care workers. The three-year pilot program, spearheaded by Kohl and authorized under the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, prevented more than 7,000 applicants with a history of substantiated abuse or a violent criminal record from working with and preying upon frail elders and individuals with disabilities in long-term care settings.
In March 2008, the Senate voted 89-7 to pass a Kohl-Domenici amendment to the FY2009 Budget Resolution that will create a deficit-neutral reserve fund to pay for a nationwide expansion of the seven-state pilot program if the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act is passed.
The legislation is strongly endorsed by State Attorneys General across the country, the Elder Justice Coalition, which speaks for over 500 member organizations; the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO); AARP; the American Health Care Association; NCCNHR; the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging; and advocates in hundreds of communities who work every day to protect the well-being of elders and individuals with disabilities.
LCAO recently sent a letter of support to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
"With few legislative days remaining in the 110th Congress, it would be a tragedy to allow any more older Americans to suffer the pain of abuse, neglect, and exploitation because Congress failed to act," the letter stated. "Passage of this critical legislation would make a real difference to older adults in each and every state in the nation, and the undersigned members of LCAO stand ready to assist your efforts to pass it this fall."
AARP also renewed its support for the bill in letters sent to Baucus and Grassley on Monday, touching on the importance of eliminating the loopholes present in today's haphazard system of background checks, which vary state to state.
"Individuals with criminal convictions or histories of abuse can pose a significant risk to persons receiving long-term care. A system of national criminal background checks is critical, given the mobility of today's workers and the turnover in the long-term care workforce."
S.1577 was introduced in June 2007 by Kohl and Domenici, along with cosponsors Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Carl Levin (D-MI), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Barack Obama (D-IL), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Bob Casey (D-PA). Congressman Tim Mahoney (D-FL) introduced a companion bill (HR.3078) in July 2007 in the U.S. House of Representatives, with Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) and Congresswoman Nancy Boyda (D-FL) as original cosponsors.