Looking for the latest stories? We're now at cironline.org

Nearly all nursing homes employ convicted criminals


More than 90 percent of nursing homes employ at least one person with at least one criminal conviction, and nearly half of facilities have five people on staff with a criminal conviction, according to a report by the federal Health and Human Services Inspector General.

Among those convicted, about 44 percent of employees were found guilty of property crimes such as burglary, shoplifting or writing bad checks. The workers most likely to have convictions were housekeeping, nursing assistant and dietary workers, according to the report [PDF], which was released last week.

The report also found:

  • Among convicted workers, 20 percent had driven under the influence, 16 percent were convicted of drug-related crimes and 13 percent committed crimes against people.
  • Eighty-four percent of convicted employees had their most recent conviction before the start of their current employment.
  • In 15 percent of nursing homes, 10 percent or more of the staff had a criminal conviction.

Report authors say the federal health reform law aims to address the problem of unfit caregivers by creating a national criminal background check database.

Still, the fitness of care workers in homes, nursing homes and small residential facilities has been a hot topic in California.

Last year, the state Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes issued a report [PDF] showing that about 20 workers barred from caring for seniors in nursing homes turned up caring for seniors at other types of elder care facilities in California.

Report author John Hill found that one care worker pleaded guilty to a crime related to concealing the fact that she caused an elderly woman to fall and break her hip. That worker was barred from working in nursing homes, but soon ended up in a residential care facility for the elderly, or RCFE.

Hill’s report found that a 2006 law required the Department of Social Services, which oversees RCFE facilities, to create a database of workers who were sanctioned for lapses in care. However:

Four years later, the database does not exist. The Department of Social Services decided in the 2007-08 fiscal year that it would not seek money to comply with the new law, which was contingent on a budget allocation. In later years, as the state’s budget deteriorated, Social Services did not consider seeking money for the centralized database, estimated to cost “in excess of $500,000.” Nor did it inform the Legislature that the database would not be built, deciding on its own that the state’s cash crunch would mean shelving the project while it pursued less costly steps.

The report also found that one person was allowed to operate an RCFE even after “a criminal conviction for battery and other misconduct that led Public Health to conclude that he ‘may pose a potential risk to the health, safety and welfare of residents.’”

Patricia McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said it's problematic that there is very little public reporting of criminal history or discipline actions against nursing assistants, workers who perform the bulk of nursing home work.

While the Medical Board of California lists disciplinary actions against doctors and arrest records on a public website, no such resource exists for nursing assistants, whose licenses are granted by the Department of Public Health.

"It’s always been a problem in that you just don’t know," McGinnis said. "There’s a lot of abuse in nursing homes, but we never know if these people have criminal backgrounds."

Following the issuance of the report, Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose, carried a bill that would have prevented anyone convicted of murder, kidnapping or several other crimes from operating a residential care facility for the elderly. The bill, while seemingly uncontroversial, carried a price tag for the stepped-up checks and died in committee.

California law lists the specific convictions that disqualify people from working in or operating a nursing home, and health professional licensing boards have their own requirements.

The topic of unfit caregivers has also been controversial in the In-Home Support Services program. The Los Angeles Times reported last year that people convicted of murder, rape and elder abuse served as caregivers under that program.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger moved to ban felons from working in the program. However, a group of care workers and patients sued to block the move. Ultimately an Alameda County Superior Court judge sided with the plaintiffs, some of whom were care workers with decades-old convictions, including one for marijuana possession in the 1970s.



Comments are closed for this story.
impoundguy's picture
Nice back ground checking...or NONE!...seems that as you moved toward the last part of your life you can look forward to getting ripped off or abused by some ex-felon who has been assigned to your care....terrible way to leave this life. Let's see who actually steps up to the plate and does something about this serious flaw. My guess is, NO ONE!
zdood's picture
So let me get this straight - this is a "news" story about the mere PRESENCE of workers with a criminal record? By virtue of having a job, isn't it saying something that they're not criminals any more? Or is someone damned for all eternity for something they've done in their past? The way this article comes off, I kept expecting to see some crime described that's attributed to one of these ex-cons who are so prevelant in the workforce. But surprise! It's just that they're working in the facility. As someone who's big on second chances and giving people another shot at life, I'm actually quite put off by this article. These people work in places as caregivers to the elderly - regardless of their past transgressions, it would seem that they're doing ok now. I would like to see a study that focuses on a list of crimes committed against the elderly in those care facilities and whether or not there's a correlation to the list of ex-cons. If there is none, then leave them be.
emsellem@nelp.org's picture
Your piece leaves out some important facts and perspective on this critical issue. While 5% of nursing home employees have a criminal conviction, the fact is that FBI rap sheets include all sorts of minor infractions and misdemeanors, not just serious felonies. What’s more, 38% of the offenses reported by the IG turned out to be more than 10 years old. Since one in three adults in the U.S. has a record – a sobering reality, for sure -- it’s fair to say the nursing homes are doing a pretty careful job screening their workers. Before closing the door to qualified workers, it’s time to evaluate the fairness of the process. For starters, any screening must include a “waiver” for workers who have been rehabilitated, just like the federal “terrorism security” checks of the nation’s port workers. Bottom line, we have to be smarter at screening for those workers who pose a true safety and security risks and do much more to protect those hard-working and caring employees who have turned their lives around.
SuzieQCitizen's picture
This article is lacking, that is for sure. I do believe there should be "MANDATORY Criminal History Checks" done on all applicants to all nursing homes, assisted living facilities and for Home health aides, etc. I believe anyone who has a conviction (no matter how old the conviction) for any "ABUSE" or "NEGLECT" charges (elder or child abuse/neglect), Any convicition of "FRAUD", check fraud, credit card fraud, etc, and any MAJOR DRUG charges (ie: prescription addiction/forgery, cocain, meth, etc) Because our elderly become victims way too easily in these types of facilities and people convicted of above charges do not get their "second chances" working near or with anyone (Elderly or Child or Handicapped) whom they can easily make a target and/or victim. Now if an applicant has MINOR charges for DUI (driving under influence), minor drug charges (marijuana only is considered minor), minor shoplifting charges, any vehicle (anything while driving a car) charges, FTA (Failure to appear at court) and FTP (Failure to pay fines), well these charges are minor infractions and no "intended victims", so these applicants should be considered and these minor charges should not be "cause" for not hiring said individual. But in any case, the "protection" of our elderly residents should be the number 1 priority in the hiring and running of these facilities and employing Home Health Aides!

via Twitter

© 2013 California Watch   /  development:  Happy Snowman Tech   /  design: