Bill Would Expand Nursing Homes’ Access to Federal Background-Check Database

A new piece of legislation before Congress would expand nursing homes’ ability to perform detailed background checks on potential employees, according to its sponsor.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, earlier this week announced a bill to improve health care worker hiring practices in an effort to reduce elder abuse.

The initiative — known as the Promote Responsible Oversight & Targeted Employee Background Check Transparency for Seniors (PROTECTS) Act — would increase access to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) for Medicare and Medicaid providers, a system that allows firms to perform background checks on potential employees.

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Hosted under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the database verifies that potential hires do not have a history of malpractice.

The bill would help reduce the expense of using the site — and open up usage for long-term care providers, because federal law limits who can access the database, according to Sen. Gillibrand’s press office.

Currently, in order to access the database, health care entities must undergo a formal peer review process ensuring that they conduct professional review activities, including written procedures that provide adequate notice and an opportunity for a hearing, according to the senator’s office. A majority of nursing homes do not have such a peer review process, making them ineligible to access the data bank without paying a fee.

“Families need to trust that when a loved one is living in a long-term care facility, they will be safe and cared for professionally,” Gillibrand, who serves on the Special Committee on Aging, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, there have been far too many reports of abuse in these facilities, and this is unacceptable.”

The American Health Care Association, the national trade group that represents for-profit nursing home and post-acute care providers, affirmed its support for the bill.

“Access to the National Practitioner Data Bank is a significant step toward helping long-term care providers more effectively and efficiently screen potential employees for histories of disciplinary problems from all 50 state licensing boards and any prior terminations for abuse,” David Gifford, AHCA’s senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs, said in the statement.


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