Law Would Expand Healthcare Background Checks for Senior Care

Proposed Law Would Strengthen Senior Healthcare Background Checks

Elder abuse is a serious problem in the United States, but one that often flies under the radar for the average person. To an outsider, nursing homes and care facilities are very opaque organizations. Many other kinds of elder care take place in private homes. These settings, combined with the potentially vulnerable nature of some senior citizens, create conditions that are unfortunately ripe for abuse. In recent years, better healthcare background checks and related policies have sought to control the issue.

Even so, issues remain. With licensing that takes place on a state-by-state basis, it is still surprisingly easy for an abuser to move from one state to another for a fresh start. Various programs in some states have sought to address these concerns by enhancing the depth and detail of pre-employment screening procedures. 

A bipartisan effort introduced into the United States Senate in 2023 aims to create federal guidelines that would ideally create safer conditions for seniors nationwide. Called the PROTECTS Act, this is the second time the legislation has come before Congress since its original introduction (and failure) in 2021.

What's in the PROTECTS Act?

The PROTECTS Act's goal is very simple: expand the number of organizations allowed to access the National Practitioner Data Bank, or NPDB. Created in the 1980s, the NPDB is a database that contains information such as records of payments for malpractice; license suspensions or revocations; professional disciplinary action records, and more. In short, it is a national database that aims to collect certain information about providers who've violated their position and committed wrongdoing.

Many nursing homes and care providers do not have easy access to this database. Even senior care centers that are Medicare or Medicaid providers don't have access. The PROTECTS Act would grant access to a broader range of organizations to make it simpler to detect bad actors attempting to find work again away from their past actions. 

Reducing Abuse Through Criminal Background Checks for Healthcare Workers

Could the PROTECTS Act really make a difference? Absolutely—especially if organizations take a broader view of their healthcare background check requirements. Not only volunteers or senior care aides in nursing homes should undergo screening—it's virtually everybody on-site, including medical professionals.

As part of a broader screening program, detecting past wrongdoing registered in the NPDB can indicate to an organization that an individual might not be a good fit. In fact, they might even pose a risk. Just as an organization might choose to disqualify a candidate for a history of fraud or theft, the same is true for someone with a checkered licensing disciplinary history.

Creating a Safer Space for Elder Care in the Future

Currently, the PROTECTS Act does not have companion legislation filed in the House of Representatives, nor is there a definitive timeline for its consideration. After its initial failure two years ago, it remains possible that the act won't become law during this Congress, either. However, its reintroduction should remind all senior care providers and agencies to review and strengthen their healthcare background checks whenever possible.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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