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Report: State fails to check background of caregivers
Sacramento Business Journal
The state exposed elderly residents in long-term care facilities to dangerous caregivers by failing to put into practice a 2006 law that required state regulators to establish a centralized database for background checks, according to a report released Friday.
An investigation by the state Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes found at least 20 cases in which individuals who lost certification as nurse assistants because of misconduct were cleared to work in a different type of facility also licensed by the state.
The cases, which include at least three in the Sacramento region, reveal a gap in how those who work with vulnerable California residents are screened and monitored, the report concludes.
Local examples include:
* A nurse assistant was fired and decertified in 2008 for taking a blind resident's ATM card and withdrawing $100. The incident was reported to the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, but criminal charges were not filed. She later worked in the kitchen of the facility. She has since quit, but remains on the California Department of Social Services' database of workers cleared for employment at a residential care facility for the elderly.
* The California Department of Public Health decertified a worker for slapping an 83-year-old nursing home resident and pulling her hair when the resident struggled during a diaper change. A month after she was fired, she got clearance to work at a residential care facility for the elderly. She went to work at a Sacramento adult day-care facility as a trainer, overseeing clients doing volunteer work and arts-and-crafts activities. She told the oversight office no one had asked her about the incident.
* The Board of Pharmacy took away a pharmacy technician's registration in 2007 after she stole 11,000 tablets of a prescription painkiller over seven years to give to her disabled husband. Two years later, the Department. of Social Services cleared her to work in a 128-bed assisted-living home in Roseville.
"There is no excuse for allowing people with known histories of abuse to work in residential care facilities for the elderly or as caregivers in any other setting," Michael Connors, long-term care advocate for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said in a news release about the report.
Senate Bill 1759, passed by the Legislature in 2006, requires the Department of Social Services to set up a centralized database of administrative actions such as license revocations. The database would have allowed six state entities that license and regulate workers to check each other's records before clearing applicants.
Four years later, the database does not exist. The agency did not seek funding for the project due to state budget woes.
"Our top priority is making sure individuals living in our licensed facilities are protected to the greatest degree possible. The moment it is brought to our attention that individuals approved to work in residential care facilities for the elderly pose a risk, we begin (an) investigation," said Lizelda Lopez, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services. "We have looked at all these cases and are confident we've taken appropriate action."
The California Department of Public Health is actively sharing information with the Department of Social Services," Public Health spokesman Al Lundeen said. "It's part of an interagency agreement."
The Senate Subcommittee on Aging and Long-Term Care has scheduled a review of the report March 24.