Background Checks


As the population ages, more and more people will be employed in some area of the healthcare field – from nurse’s aides, EMTs, LPNs, RNs, technicians, custodial people, to the most highly trained physicians and specialists in any of a variety of disciplines ranging from research to surgery. Healthcare, broadly defined, also extends to the employees of pharmaceutical companies and to the manufacturers of life-saving medical equipment of every sort.

It is impossible to imagine a more all-encompassing field in which background and reference checking could be more important. Every area of the healthcare field, from the home healthcare worker to the chemist in the laboratory should be carefully checked before any hiring decision is made – the risks involved in hiring someone who claims to be something he or she is not are just too great.

It hasn’t been all that long ago that a former army medic stole and duplicated the credentials of his brother, who was a doctor, and opened a medical office in another state and masqueraded as a physician for over three years before being caught. Can anyone imagine trusting their health to someone who had never darkened the door of a medical school?

At a more rudimentary level, particularly among extended care facilities and nursing homes, people are routinely hired as nurse’s aides who, unfortunately, turn out to be convicted felons, those addicted to drugs, or others who routinely abuse elderly patients. According to a March 2011 report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG), Report OEI-07-09-00110, 92 percent of nursing facilities have employed at least one individual with one criminal conviction. This study reports 5 percent of nursing facility employees have at least one criminal conviction and nearly half of the nursing facilities have employed five or more people with a conviction.

“How can that happen?” one is bound to ask. To find the answer, one need only ask what most nursing homes are in business to do. Is it to provide outstanding care given by the most qualified people available or to operate at the lowest cost in order to turn a profit? The stories of abuse of patients in extended care facilities are disgraceful and, in most instances, avoidable if only a cursory background check had been done. Why aren’t they done? The cost of checking, although very low, cuts into the profitability of the facilities’ owners. Not unlike education, however, more and more states are requiring that some type of background check be done on all healthcare employees. Federal regulation prohibits Medicare and Medicaid nursing facilities from employing people found guilty of abusing, neglecting, or mistreating residents, according to the HHS OIG study, and it is stated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that nursing facilities must be thorough in their investigations of the past histories of prospective employees. The irony is, Federal law does not “require” that nursing facilities conduct State or Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) criminal background checks.

As with school children, people who are least able to do anything about it, the sick and the elderly, are a vulnerable segment of our population who deserve to be cared for by people who are, at least, all they claim to be. Frankly, it is difficult to imagine any healthcare institution without the integrity to do everything possible to insure that those in their care are at least safe from harm. Tragically, that’s not always the case in the pursuit of the almighty dollar.