The state of Georgia has strengthened their law on background checks for nursing home employees and owners who have routine resident contact or access to any of their personal information. Effective October 1, 2019, all owners, applicants and employees of long term care facilities will be subjected to fingerprint and name background checks through the FBI’s database. Previously, state law required a name-only background check through a state database. The group behind the push for the new law, the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, said the stricter laws of surrounding states left Georgia open to employing those from neighboring states with a checkered past.
The new law, officially titled the Georgia Long-Term Care Background Check Program, applies to not just nursing homes, but assisted living facilities, home health agencies, and private in-home providers.
Illinois Nursing Home Employee Law
The Illinois Health Care Worker Background Check Act applies to owners and applicants to hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, hospice care providers, and assisted living facilities. Currently the law requires background checks that include fingerprinting for applicants, but only requires the prints to be run through the Illinois state police database. There is an option to run the prints through the FBI database, but it is not a requirement. As with Georgia, the law applies to those who have regular contact with residents or patients, as well as those who have access to their information.
There is a loophole for long-term healthcare employees in the current Illinois law. Those hired before 10/1/2007 who have worked for the same employer on a continual basis are exempt from a fingerprint background check. If the employee should switch employers, they are then required to submit to the test.
All information on healthcare workers is available through the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Health Care Worker Registry (HCWR). Specifically, the database details license status, known criminal activity, and the year of completion and location of their certification program for CNAs. CNAs have the most 1 on 1 contact with nursing home residents on a daily basis.
Many Illinois cities are in close proximity to Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, and Wisconsin, creating the opportunity for out-of-state employment. What is to prevent someone with an offense from another state crossing over to work in an Illinois nursing home? The Illinois Health Care Worker Background Check form does ask for both a current address and prior addresses and notes that the information may be run through the FBI’s database, but as previously mentioned, the FBI check is not required by law.
In a profession entrusted with the care of our most vulnerable citizens, it should be the law that all employees, regardless of the length of their employment or amount of contact with residents, are subjected to a fingerprint criminal check run through the federal database on an annual basis. Still, to play devil’s advocate, stories have dominated the news of abusive and neglectful nursing home workers who have no prior record but have committed atrocious acts. While there is no current plan to strengthen Illinois’ law on background checks for healthcare workers, the passage of the new law in Georgia is at least giving many hope that other states will realize our elderly loved ones deserve better.