Healthcare Employees and the Incredible State of Background Screening

In some ways it is oddly gratifying to see that the Australians have the same problem as the Americans when conducting background checks on healthcare workers.   We have long been aware of the number of healthcare workers in the United States who despite disciplinary actions against them and criminal records manage to slip through the cracks, avoiding detection during the employment screening process.

This is largely due to the fact that the employment screening is often shoddy.   Those responsible don't run enough background checks, or they fail to be comprehensive int heir background checks, or when the background checks are returned, nobody bothers to review them.   They are merely filed rather than examined.   Then something happens, a patient or client is harmed, drugs are stolen, someone is robbed or molested, and then it makes the news.  There are the subsequent liability issues and the  public embarrassment.

There are headlines and the consequent promises from staffers and recruiters  to tighten up their act.  There are studies galore and civic watchdogs like Pro Publica publish award winning documents about the abuses in the healthcare industry.   Legislation is passed, vowing to keep a tighter rein on the industry.   And then it happens again.  There are more abuses,  followed by the consequent liability claims, the public embarrassment, more studies, and more legislation.   Talk about recycling. 

So now from down under an ABC New report reveals that in New South Wales an ombudsman decries the sad state of health and community workers with histories of fraud, violence, substance abuse, and all the other ugly stuff that can make us squirm.   The ombudsman's report declares the background checks as haphazard and ineffective.   The report recommends more stringent background checks.

So there we are--from the land of the kangaroo.   While universal, I must say it is really not that difficult to monitor background checks.  First you have to order the correct background checks, be they criminal records histories or the healthcare sanctions reports.   The reports should be conducted by a reputable background screening company.   Despite budget concerns and a bad economy, they shouldn't be done on the cheap.    Be cost effective, yes, but not to the point where you are cutting so many corners you might as well not conduct any background checks at all.

And, when the reports are completed and returned,  you  then have to read them.  You have to actually go over all those printed words to ascertain if your employment candidate has a criminal record, a history of substance abuse, if that candidate is listed for disciplinary action within the healthcare sanctions lists, be it the OIG/GSA or FACIS  database.   After all, the idea of the background check is to make sure your candidate does not have a nefarious record.  And if your job applicant does have a lousy history, the idea is not to allow them to work where they can be harmful to yet another client or patient.   The idea is to find someone else and not do the universal ,"oh well," and sent them off with a lunch pail.

Otherwise, there is the likelihood that it will all happen again.  Someone will get hurt or robbed, and it will make headlines.   There will be liability issues for the employer, followed by studies, reports, and promises to tighten up the healthcare industry screening process.  A vicious cycle, indeed.

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