Governor Steve Beshear today announced that he has signed an emergency regulation requiring certain health care providers to obtain national criminal background checks on new employees and other individuals who provide direct one-on-one care to elderly residents or patients in order to obtain or renew the facility’s license to operate in the Commonwealth.
Effective Jan. 1, 2016, approximately 1,300 providers will be required to obtain national background checks for all new employees. These providers include nursing homes, intermediate care facilities and Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (ICF/IID); adult day health care programs; assisted living communities; home health agencies; hospice; personal services agencies; providers of home and community-based services; personal care homes; and staffing agencies, including nursing pools that have contracts to provide staff to one or more of the listed employer types.
“Protecting the elderly and other individuals residing in these facilities is not only important – it is our duty as state leaders,” said Gov. Beshear. “All too often, these vulnerable citizens become victims of the very individuals who are supposed to be caring for them. This regulation, based upon a federal law allowing these background checks, will ensure we are able to thoroughly track the history of anyone who has committed such an offense, whether it occurred in Kentucky or out of state, and ensure they will not be working at health care facilities in the Commonwealth.”
Prior to utilizing this federal law, state law required only name-based, Kentucky-specific background checks, creating a loophole that allowed applicants seeking employment in these long-term care and other settings to hide criminal actions committed in other states. Meanwhile, the prevalence of alleged abuse or exploitation of seniors in these settings remained significant. Since May 2014, more than 2,600 total complaints have been lodged against long-term care providers, nearly 30 percent of which were directly related to suspected abuse or exploitation of residents.
“By requiring fingerprint-supported background checks that search for both state and federal FBI criminal records, applicants will not be able to hide criminal actions committed in other states,” said Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Audrey Tayse Haynes. “National background checks are a critical initiative that dramatically improve the ability of long-term care and other providers to timely and accurately research the backgrounds of potential employees, ruling out individuals with histories of violence, abuse or exploitation that occurred in other states.”
Since receiving an initial federal grant in 2011 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) Office of Inspector General implemented the Kentucky Applicant Registry and Employment Screening background check program, also known as KARES, and offered the statewide program on a voluntary basis with 35 fingerprint scanners located in Kentucky.
KARES was recently awarded an additional $689,000 in CMS grant funding to add 35 more fingerprint scanners throughout Kentucky, bringing the total number of scanner locations to 70.
“This program improves resident and patient safety and promotes a higher quality of care,” said CHFS Inspector General Maryellen Mynear. “The electronic program has now been fully tested by voluntary participants over the last 18 months, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive regarding its ease of use, cost effectiveness and speed. Our office will assist providers as they apply for initial licensure or renew their existing license to ensure a smooth and timely transition to a national criminal background check program that meets the requirements of this regulation.”
In signing the regulation, Gov. Beshear noted the success of KARES. The electronic program has been operational since May 2014 on a voluntary basis and allows employers to perform all necessary background checks – from professional licenses to abuse registries to both state and federal criminal databases – in one step through electronic fingerprinting. The program significantly reduces the time required to complete a background check, and in most cases returns results in 24 to 72 hours, compared to three or more weeks using the traditional paper-based background check process.
“I’m glad we are taking this step to protect Kentucky’s seniors,” said Rep. David Watkins, of Henderson. “Those being cared for or recovering in long-term care facilities need as many protections as we can provide. This system will help make sure those seeking employment caring for our loved ones don’t slip through the cracks between law enforcement agencies and have been thoroughly checked out.”
“This is an important step in protecting our loved ones in care facilities,” said Rep. Linda Belcher, of Shepherdsville. “I have been working on legislation to accomplish this for some time now and am very pleased Gov. Beshear has taken this step to further protect the elderly residents and patients.”
“Our senior citizens and our disabled citizens are especially vulnerable to abuse and it is up to us to protect them,” said Sen. Denise Harper Angel, of Louisville. “As a legislator, I have been committed to putting in place stronger safeguards to protect our most at-risk citizens. I am pleased that Gov. Beshear is implementing mandatory national background checks for nursing home employees and other caregivers – legislation that I have long been an advocate.”
“I commend Gov. Steve Beshear for this action to provide protections for our senior citizens,” said Sen. Tom Buford, of Nicholasville.
Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer said KSP maintains the criminal history repository on behalf of the Commonwealth and has partnered with CHFS to provide pertinent information for this initiative.
“The KARES program is an excellent example of state government agencies working together to safeguard Kentucky’s elderly citizens,” Commissioner Brewer said. “We will utilize technology in any way possible to deliver real-time information for citizens who are vulnerable to abuse due to age and medical issues.”
Since its launch, the program has performed more than 2,200 background checks and has screened out applicants who had been convicted of serious violent offenses in other states but had no criminal history in Kentucky.
The program’s website is found at http://chfs.ky.gov/os/oig/kares/ and contains provider enrollment information, general information for both providers and the public, frequently asked questions and links to related programs and content. Additional information can be obtained by contacting the program’s help service via email, KARES.Helpdesk@ky.gov or by telephone at 502-564-2159.