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Outrage: Abusers Slip Through the Cracks

Workers with criminal records still allowed to work at some facilities,

Jennifer Coldren's 90-year-old grandmother, who suffers from dementia, was assaulted and raped by an employee at her residential care facility in 2006. The 45-year-old attacker had a criminal record and previous allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct.

"It was his third day on the floor," says Coldren. The attacker is now serving up to 30 years in prison.

While the Rome, N.Y., facility where Coldren's grandmother lived does conduct criminal background checks—as required by state law—employees are allowed to work while waiting for the results. Federal law doesn't require long-term care facilities to conduct national criminal background checks. And when facilities do perform them—either voluntarily or because of state law—the results can take up to four months, which can put residents at risk.

The U.S. Senate is considering a bill, the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act of 2007, that would create a national background check system for long-term care workers. Based on a pilot program launched in seven states, this system could speed up background checks; it would also prohibit an abuser from working in another state where interstate background checks aren't done.

"We need to keep predators out of our system, not just prosecute them after they’ve ruined people's lives," says Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., the bill's sponsor.

Coldren agrees, adding, "If this bill was already in place, this would not have happened to my grandmother."

Elizabeth Nolan Brown is an assistant editor/web content producer for AARP Bulletin Today.

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