Recent reports of abuse in nursing homes are not only disturbing; they also shed light on the difficulties that long-term care (LTC) facilities face in screening potential health care workers. We believe background screenings of potential employees for skilled nursing facilities are key to improving health care hiring practices and protect LTC patients from abuse. Sadly, access to an important national database of background checks has been restricted to "eligible entities" such as hospitals and medical boards, with LTC facilities locked out of the list.

Last month, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced bipartisan legislation that would lift restrictions on access to this data for Medicare- and Medicaid-certified skilled nursing facilities, home health agencies, hospice programs and pharmacies. The Promote Responsible Oversight & Targeted Employee background Check Transparency for Seniors (PROTECTS) Act would expand access to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) for Medicare and Medicaid providers, letting them screen potential hires for a history of malpractice or misconduct to hire more qualified and professional staff. Established by Congress in 1986, the NPDB is an important tool in the health care workforce.

A member of the Senate's Special Committee on Aging, Senator Gillibrand has received endorsement for this bill from the American Health Care Association and the National Association for Home Care & Hospice. "The PROTECTS Act would improve the standards of care in long-term facilities by bringing more transparency to workforce quality and protecting our seniors," she says.

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