The U.S. Senate Finance Committee gave unanimous approval to the Patient Safety & Abuse Prevention Act on September 10, 2008. Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, Herb Kohl, D-Wis., introduced the legislation on June 7, 2007. Senator Kohl urged swift action by the full Senate before it adjourns again.

The sponsors of the bill state it will address issues related to background checks, as employers are not always able to find out if an applicant has a history of patient abuse or violent crime. It would also expand a pilot program that was initially started in 2003 in seven states and create a background check system that screens job applicants at long-term care facilities.

Nebraska already requires screening, but in going nationwide, the system would coordinate abuse and neglect registries and law enforcement records from each state with the FBI’s national database of criminal history records. If the bill passes, a nursing home would be required to screen all persons applying for positions that have direct contact with patients and presumably negative findings from other states would be easily identified. Anyone with a conviction for a violent crime or substantiated findings of abuse would be disqualified from holding such a job.

If a nursing home fails to perform the screening or if it knowingly employed a disqualified person in a direct care position, it could face penalties, including exclusion from the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs.

A budget amendment setting aside $160 million over 3 years will fund the background screening. Senator Pete Domenici, R-N.M. and co-sponsor of the bill, stated that this piece of legislation is important in providing safe-guards to protect our elderly and disabled.

Tammy J. Schroeder