Nursing Homes and Trust Funds: Are Background Checks [email protected]
Are nursing homes a target for criminals? Unfortunately, that’s what it seems. An investigation published last year by USA TODAY yields alarming results; thousands of nursing home residents have had their savings stolen from their trust accounts by business managers, bookkeepers and other staff working at the facility. Considering long-term care providers are trusted to provide a safe environment for our elderly family and friends, how is this possible?
Another article published last year in December by USA TODAY states, “Many states do not require background checks on nursing home staff who manage residents’ trust funds, and few demand audits of those accounts.” The newspaper’s review of state laws reveals that nearly all states require background checks for nursing home staff in caregiving roles, but 20 states exempt office workers from that requirement because they don’t have direct interaction with those patients. This leaves residents’ savings vulnerable to negligence and theft.
What’s more unsettling is that these crimes—in the thousands—can go undiscovered for months, even years, and the thefts can reach hundreds to thousands of dollars because these accounts aren’t required to be audited.
Nursing homes, however, are required to maintain a surety bond for residents’, which ensures that long-term care providers properly handle patient funds. Therefore, any funds that are lost or stolen ultimately should be compensated. Still, crimes like these can be avoided.
Nearly two years ago, for example, a financial specialist at Wetumpka Health and Rehabilitation Center, Joseph Feagin Jr., was convicted on charges for stealing over $115,000 from residents’ trust accounts. The investigation later uncovered that Mr. Feagin held a criminal record with a conviction in a first-degree theft case in another county and was on probation.
In this instance, a comprehensive background check report would have revealed his criminal past and evidenced that he was an unfit candidate for the position. Cases like these may lead to monetary penalties and taint an organization’s reputation, leading to public speculation and lost revenue.
Similarly, last year an accounting clerk at Meridian Manor in Waterbury, Virginia Soules, was convicted on charges of embezzling $140,000 from multiple trust fund accounts during a one-year period. Ms. Soules was eventually caught through an office manager’s suspicion that unauthorized checks were being withdrawn from residents’ trust funds—not by well-ordered financial audits, background checks or strict management policies, but by chance or accident.
In the wake of USA Today’s investigation, the chairman of U.S. Senate Aging Committee is urging the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency responsible for nursing home regulation, “to adopt stricter oversight policies for the special trust accounts that nursing homes use to safeguard residents’ money.” In doing so, this would require nursing home inspectors to review the trust accounts annually for evidence of theft or mismanagement. In addition, he urged CMS inspectors to receive supplemental training to identify impending risks in residents’ accounts.
Greg Crist, Senior Vice President of the American Health Care Association, says theft and mismanagement of residents’ funds is not a major problem in the nation’s 16,000 nursing homes. He also notes, many nursing home operators audit the trust accounts on their own initiative. Is that enough considering these victims are typically not self-sufficient and vulnerable?
How do you feel? Do you think federal regulators should team up with their state counterparts and industry officials to help mandate policies to mitigate this issue of oversight?
Source: USA Today