Additional checks required for home health workers

MARIETTA – Home health workers now face more frequent and strenuous background checks due to a recent change in Ohio law.

The regulations are aimed at keeping patients who receive in-home care safer and providing a consistent standard for agencies to follow.

Not enough screening in an industry such as this is a huge concern, said Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, who voted for the change.

“You don’t want to make it impossible to hire employees for a rapidly growing field, but you also can’t take any chances,” he said.

The most significant change from previous requirements is that home health workers are now required to have a background check every five years of employment.

Current employees hired prior to Jan. 1, 2008 must be rechecked within 30 days of the anniversary of their date of hire, meaning those hired in 2008 will be checked this year, those in 2009 will be checked in 2014 and so on. Employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2008 must be rechecked within 30 days of the five-year anniversary of their date of hire. Employers are also now required to review certain free databases for disqualifying information before conducting a criminal background check on potential employees.

Prior to these changes the Ohio Department of Health only required checks of individuals who were providing care to children under 18 and adults over 60. There was no requirement for ongoing checks of employees after they were hired. There was also no requirement in place requiring the use of free databases.

The process has definitely gotten more intense, according to Sheree Stanley, the office manager for Cambridge Home Health Care in Marietta.

The company policy already in place was to have current and potential employees be required to pass both a background check and a motor vehicle report.

“We run a fingerprint background check through the Ohio Valley Educational Service Center and submit our employees’ information into a website called LexisNexis,” Stanley said. “It runs a social security verification, processes the motor vehicle report and also performs a background check.”

Employees who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear from this change, said Amy Wriston, the scheduling supervisor for Cambridge Home Health Care.

Wriston served as a home health aide for more than a year and said she believes patients need to know about who they are letting into their homes.

“A lot can change in a person’s life in five years. You never know what they might get involved in during that amount of time,” she said.

The added security won’t come without a price, though.

“We understand these checks are necessary but the added costs are going to have a negative impact on our budget,” said Connie Huntsman, the operations director of the O’Neill Center in Marietta.

“We are an organization that is dedicated to providing a quality service with safety being the main priority,” Huntsman said. “We felt like we were accomplishing that without these rules in place, but regardless we will adhere to this new policy.”

Prior to the legislation the O’Neill Center required a background check for new employees, but didn’t re-check current employees once they were hired.

“We had a policy that was in place prior to the new legislation, that required our employees to report any transgressions directly to us,” Huntsman said.

Laura Bowling, of Beverly, has had a home care service provider for the last 10 years. She said she believes that more frequent background checks for workers will help protect people like her.

“When you have strangers coming into your house you don’t know who you can trust and who you can’t,” Bowling said. “I think with more background checks you can help keep everyone honest.”

Joanie Yeomans, owner of Comfort Keepers in Marietta, said she thinks this is something the industry desperately needed.

“We definitely applaud these changes because not all background checks are created equal,” Yeomans said. “The FBI fingerprint background check isn’t always what it’s made out to be, as important information is sometimes not included for various reasons.”

These new regulations may be a huge step forward for the industry, but it isn’t going to be anything new for Comfort Keepers.

According to Yeomans, Comfort Keepers has had the most stringent background checks in the industry for the nine years they’ve been in business.

“We do a background check on each of our 115 employees every single year,” Yeomans said. “We run a social security trace to identify where each person has operated geographically and then send a physical runner to check for a criminal records at each location.”

Yeomans said she isn’t concerned about the costs these frequent background checks pose to her company.

“We aren’t worried about this being something that will cost us money,” she said. “We don’t go cheap on this. Our patients are very vulnerable and anything we can do to protect them is a step in the right direction.”