A few years ago, an investigative reporter in Kalamazoo, Michigan uncovered a problem that should put anyone with elderly loved ones on edge. David Bailey investigated a company that provides home healthcare services, and he found five ex-felons who were not only employed by the company, but who were allowed access to patients and their private information including social security numbers.
These are not just people committing petty crimes. One woman, who had a history of more than a dozen convictions before getting hired, was writing checks from her 92-year-old client’s bank account. Two other employees were convicted of drug possession and another was a convicted sex-offender… yet they were all hired by a company created to take care of those who could no longer care for themselves.
Seniors are the most rapidly growing segment of the population, and they are more and more likely to fall victim to a crime. The demand for home healthcare workers is expected to increase by as much as 70 percent between 2010 and 2020.
The key to protecting anyone who requires in-home care is to do a thorough background check. While most states have some sort of licensing procedure, states have different laws regarding background checks for primary care providers.
Instructions for conducting background checks on anyone entering a patient’s home are explained by the Michigan Department of Community Health this way:
“Each waiver agent and direct provider of home-based services must require and thoroughly check references of paid staff that will enter participant homes. In addition, each waiver agent and direct provider of home-based services must conduct a criminal background review through the Michigan State Police for each paid and/or volunteer staff person who will be entering participant homes. The waiver agent and direct provider shall conduct the reference and background checks before authorizing the employee to furnish services in a participant’s home.”
The state requires a search of the Michigan State Police records, but if you solely rely on this database you could miss a lot. This criminal record search will only show crimes reported to the Michigan State Police; you won’t see crimes from other states. That means that if your candidate lives near the state border, or your applicant just moved to town, there is a good chance this search will miss something. On top of all of this, the Michigan statute doesn’t even mention checking the Sex Offender Registry.
It is impossible to say if the Michigan company did thorough background checks on the five felons they employed, or if these people just slipped through the cracks. Regardless, it is essential for companies to know and understand the requirements of their state… and to know when they need to go above and beyond to guarantee their patients’ safety.