Nursing homes could soon have access to a U.S. government data bank to help with background checks for potential employees if a bill recently introduced in Congress passes.
Last week, two U.S. Senators reintroduced a bill proposing nursing homes be allowed to use the National Practitioner Data Bank, a health care-specific background check service from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Scott (R-SC) initially introduced the Ensuring Seniors’ Access to Quality Care in 2019, but it was not passed after being referred to the Senate Committee on Finance. The current iteration of the bill was referred to the same committee.
Currently, because nursing homes are not granted access to the NPDB, criminal background checks on potential employees must be done at the state level, as is the case with most jobs. The NPDB includes more information than the standard criminal background check specific to health care, including medical malpractice payment reports and other reports that can be submitted by a health care worker’s employer. Established in 1986, the data in the NPDB is currently accessible to hospitals, state medical boards, and law enforcement, among others—but not to nursing homes.
In addition to allowing nursing homes access to the NPDB, the bill would allow care facilities cited for certain patient safety violations to continue training certified nurse assistants. Under current Medicare and Medicaid rules, facilities are barred from conducting in-house CNA training for two years after violations that incur fines of more than $10,000.
In a statement on the bill, Warner said the proposal comes as the need for nursing home workers is growing.
“Our seniors are owed compassionate, qualified caregivers as they age and depend more and more on professional assistance,” Warner said. “This legislation will provide senior living facilities with the tools they need to hire experienced staff and to continue to meet the high demand for workers without sacrificing quality care.”
The statement cites Bureau of Labor Statistics data projecting an increase of about 8% in the demand for workers like CNAs between 2020 and 2030. The same set of projections predicts an even higher increase in demand, around 25%, for home health workers over the same time period, citing lower government funding of nursing homes and seniors’ preferences in tandem with an aging population.
LeadingAge, an organization of senior living care workers, released a statement in support of the proposal, citing the need for more staff in care facilities. Katie Smith Sloan, the organization’s president and CEO, said governments need to do all they can to increase the nursing home workforce.
“Our nation’s long-term care system is facing a dire workforce shortage that has only intensified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sloan said. “CNAs provide essential care in nursing homes nationwide, and we need strong training programs to ensure older adults can access much-needed 24/7 care. Without workers, there is no care, which is why every possible lever to build the direct care workforce must be pulled.”
The statement echoed the sentiment of a similar release from the time of the 2019 proposal, which characterized the restrictions on CNA training after violations as a “training lockout.”