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Kohl Releases Committee Print on Resounding Success of Protecting Elderly Through Background Checks

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC


Finance Committee to Consider Kohl-Domenici Background Check Bill Tomorrow

Today U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, released an official Committee print on the success of a seven-state pilot program to conduct background checks on long-term care workers, created by Kohl and authorized under the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act. Over a three-year period, the pilot program prevented more than 9,500 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. Kohl and Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) are urging passage of S. 1577, the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act, which would create a comprehensive nationwide system of background checks for long-term care workers. The Senate Committee on Finance has announced it will consider the bill tomorrow.

"It is with pride and urgency that I release this print. The federal government needs to build upon the pilot program's success, as the current system of state-based background checks is haphazard, inconsistent, and full of gaping holes," said Kohl. "Just think about how many more vulnerable older Americans could be protected if we expanded these programs to create a nationwide system of background checks."

"We continue to provide evidence of the efficacy of background checks for those who wish to care for the elderly, chronically ill and disabled, who represent some of the most vulnerable in our society. We should pass our legislation to set a national standard that will work to protect them," Domenici said.

As it stands now, thousands of individuals with a history of substantiated abuse or a criminal record are hired every year to work closely with defenseless seniors and persons with disabilities within our nation's nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Today such predators can easily evade detection throughout the hiring process, securing jobs that allow them to abuse our most vulnerable both physically and financially.

Through the pilot program, participating states were provided with funding to make much-needed investments in their databases, create workforce background check units, update applicable laws and regulations, and offer additional training to long-term care providers. The participating states—Wisconsin, New Mexico, Alaska, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan and Nevada—are planning to continue operating the background check programs they have put in place and build upon the technological infrastructure they have created.

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.

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.

The legislation is strongly endorsed by State Attorneys General across the country, the Elder Justice Coalition, which speaks for over 500 member organizations; 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.

In a letter, the AARP conveyed its support for the bill, stating, "Individuals with criminal convictions or histories of abuse can pose a significant risk to persons receiving long-term care... This bill would make significant strides in protecting individuals across the country receiving long-term care services." The letter also touched on the importance of eliminating the loopholes present in today's haphazard system of background checks, which vary state to state: "A system of national criminal background checks is especially critical, given the mobility of today's workers, the turnover in the long-term care workforce, and the fact that it is not unusual for individuals to work in multiple states."

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