KOHL, STABENOW HAIL PASSAGE OF FINANCE COMMITTEE HEALTH REFORM BILL WITH PROVISION TO BETTER PROTECT ELDERLY

Nationwide System of Background Checks Will Keep Predators Out of Long-Term Care Workforce, Replicate Michigan's Statewide Success


WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, hailed the Finance Committee's passage of health reform legislation that includes a provision to prevent those with criminal histories from working within long-term care settings by creating a comprehensive nationwide system of background checks. During the markup, Senator Stabenow successfully amended the Finance bill to include the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act (S. 631), a piece of policy that has been consistently championed by Senator Kohl.
 
"We have hard evidence that this policy will work and will protect lives. Comprehensive background checks are routine for those who work with young children, and we should be protecting vulnerable seniors and disabled Americans in the same way,"said Kohl .
 
"Our elders and individuals living with disabilities in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, and who receive care in their own homes deserve to know that they will not be abused or mistreated by people who have been hired to care for them. Families should also be able to trust that their loved ones are not in harm's way. That's what this is about," said Stabenow.
 
While a vast majority of long-term care workers are caring and dedicated individuals, thousands of people with a history of substantiated abuse or a criminal record are hired every year to work closely with frail seniors within our nation's nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.  Because the current system of background checks is haphazard, inconsistent, and full of gaping holes in many states, predators can easily evade detection during the hiring process, securing jobs that allow them to assault, abuse, and steal from defenseless elders.
 
To stop this abuse, the policy included in the Finance Committee bill proposes to expand a highly successful pilot program in seven states, including Michigan, that was spearheaded by Kohl and authorized under the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act.  That pilot program was found to prevent more than 7,000 applicants with a history of substantiated abuse or a violent criminal record from being hired to work with - and potentially prey upon -- frail elders and individuals with disabilities receiving long-term care services. To accomplish this, the policy provides funding for states to establish coordinated systems that include checks against multiple 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. 
 
Last Congress, the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act was passed unanimously out of the Finance Committee.  The bill was reintroduced by Kohl in March, and was cosponsored by Senators Stabenow, Susan Collins (R-ME), John Kerry (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Carl Levin (D-MI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Evan Bayh (D-IN), and Thad Cochran (R-MS).  In April, Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA) introduced a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 2233). At the behest of Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Fred Upton (R-MI), the background check policy was incorporated into the House Energy and Commerce Committee's health care reform bill.
 
In July 2008, Kohl released an official Aging Committee print on the highly successful results of the aforementioned pilot program to conduct comprehensive background checks on long-term care workers in Alaska, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin. The states who participated in the pilot have all chosen to continue their programs at their own expense, and are taking additional steps to build on the success of the technological infrastructure they created. The Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act would expand these outstanding results nationwide by making it possible for all states to make these commonsense improvements. 
 
The legislation was highlighted in PARADE Magazine earlier this year and 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.
 
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A link to the full Committee print on background checks is available here:
http://aging.senate.gov/letters/bcreport.pdf
 
A link to the executive summary of the Committee print is available here:
http://aging.senate.gov/letters/bcreportexecsummary.pdf