The PROTECTS Act aims to shield seniors from abuse and help healthcare organizations better weed out job candidates with disqualifying histories.
Late last month, the Promote Responsible Oversight & Targeted Employee Background Check Transparency for Seniors (PROTECTS) Act (S. 2574) was introduced in the U.S. Senate. Designed to help protect older adults and post-acute and long-term care (PALTC) residents from abuse by improving healthcare worker hiring practices, the bill is expected to be passed out of the Senate Finance Committee any day now.
Specifically, the bill would expand access to the National Practitioner Data Bank for Medicare & Medicaid providers to conduct background screenings on potential employees. This source of information is currently inaccessible to some Medicare and Medicaid providers, making it difficult and expensive for them to identify job candidates with criminal backgrounds. The PROTECTS Act would give all qualifying long-term care providers access to the database and help make background checks cheaper and more comprehensive.
“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,” said Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), who introduced the bill. “One way we can help protect our loved ones is by expanding access to the National Practitioner Data Bank. This system allows hospitals, medical boards, and law firms to screen health professionals for a history of malpractice, but long-term facilities are not allowed to use this important tool.”
This issue has been on Congress’s radar for a while. This past March, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on nursing home abuse and neglect. Among the witnesses was a woman who shared the story of her mother’s death due to alleged neglect by nursing home staff members. Following the hearing, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a five-part approach to guide its work to ensure nursing home safety and quality. This strategy will focus on strengthening oversight, enhancing compliance enforcement, increasing transparency, improving quality, and putting patients first.
Access to background data makes a difference. A report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General indicated that nearly 80,000 individuals with disqualifying background were screened out in eight states alone.