Though they received an state overhaul just over a year ago, there may still be cracks in the rules dictating necessary background checks for homemakers, home aides and home nurses.
In a recent Washington County felony case, it was discovered that a Whipple woman caught stealing from an elderly charge had turned up a completely clean background check despite multiple prior criminal convictions, and some area companies say the checks need to dig deeper.
Employment for in-home positions is rigorously screened, first by a series of six free online resources-sites that list sex offenders, those cited for abuse and neglect, those in prison or on parole-and is followed by a criminal background check through Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), depending on residency.
While Ohio BCI and the FBI both have excellent reputations, even their checks are subject to crimes being correctly reported, meaning in rare cases, those with criminal pasts can slip through the cracks.
"Everybody thinks the FBI is national and they think they will catch everything. Unless these local jurisdictions are reporting and doing so in a timely fashion, you might miss things," explained Joanie Yeomans, who with husband David owns Comfort Keepers of Marietta.
Ohio BCI compiles criminal histories on an individual using a combination of fingerprints taken at the time of the crime, and the disposition from the courts confirming the person was actually convicted of said crime. If either of these aspects are missing, BCI will not include that blip on the criminal background, explained Virginia Potts, identification supervisor for BCI.
Free resources for background checks
Marietta Municipal Court public access records-mariettacourt.com/search.shtml
The United States General Services Administration's System for Award Management-sam.gov/
The Office of Inspector General of the United States Department of Health and Human Services' list of excluded individuals-exclusions.oig.hhs.gov/
Department of Developmental Disabilities' registry of employees cited for abuse, neglect or misappropriation-its.prodapps.dodd.ohio.gov/ABR_Default.aspx
The Ohio Attorney General's sex offender and child-victim offender database-icrimewatch.net/index.php?AgencyID=55149&disc
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction's database of inmates-drc.ohio.gov/OffenderSearch/Search.aspx
The Department of Health's state nurse aide registry- odhgateway.odh.ohio.gov/nar/nar_registry_search.aspx
"We do have to have fingerprints to have a criminal history. Sometimes a person is summonsed to court, and if they are not fingerprinted at that time, we don't have any information of that arrest," she explained.
Also needed to corroborate every crime is the court record. Technology has improved those reporting statistics, but not perfected them, said Potts.
The agency receives many of its dispositions electronically, which is more reliable and quicker than the previous method of receiving them in the mail.
"I think it's safe to say we're at a higher compliance rate than ever before in our history," added Tom Stickrath, BCI superintendent.
The method's limitations mean someone with a less than scrupulous history can end up coming back clean, which is the recent case of a Whipple woman who wound up getting caught stealing pain medication and checks from an 82-year-old woman in her care.
A search of Samantha J. Hardie on Marietta Municipal Court's website brings up more than two dozen charges, a mix of convictions and dismissals. According to her pre-sentence investigation, Hardie had previously spent time in prison on a felony.
But the background check performed on Hardie by Foster Bridge Inc. came back 100 percent clean, said Registered Nurse Linda Knapp, the agency's nursing supervisor.
"You can sit around and interview someone for hours, but we do really rely on the criminal background checks to be accurate," said Knapp.
Foster Bridge follows all requirements, the six free checks and state or federal background, before hiring. But after the recent case, Knapp has a growing concern for how criminal incidents can go undetected.
"I've already discussed the cracks with the Area Agency on Aging to see if we could put our heads together," she said.
Yeomans said her company has filled in the cracks by performing additional cross-checks that are not required.
"We use a more old-fashioned method as well. We do Social Security traces and alias searches. Then you go to every jurisdiction that comes up in a search and do a kind of manual search in that jurisdiction," she said.
The method is not cheap, and Yeomans admits it is made possible through the company's vast network of more than 700 nationwide offices.
Locally, the O'Neill Center makes use of Marietta Municipal Court's free online record search, said executive director Connie Huntsman.
"That's the first place we go, then we immediately start into the six free background checks we know are available," she said.
The O'Neill Center runs the check on every staff member, including those who go into individuals' homes.
Marietta resident Bonnie Cronin, 67, uses the O'Neill Center Homemakers service and said she has always been confident in the trustworthiness of those in her home.
"I've had about three different homemakers over the four years. I've trusted them all and have not been given any reason not to," she said.
Cronin said she appreciates the effort the O'Neill Center puts into educating seniors on potential scams and predators.
"I do believe the elderly are sometimes not educated enough to check things out. The O'Neill Center does educate its clients on being cautious, what to look for and what information not to give out," she said.
But many in the industry would favor additional safechecks.
"BCI is the resource available to us, so we have to trust that. But there's no reason we shouldn't investigate further and use all the resources available," said Huntsman.
More accurate reporting would also go a long way, said Yeomans.
"There's not a lot of control over jurisdictions reporting to some of these agencies," she said.
Yeomans said she thinks a good next step would be for legislators to better inform themselves of current methods and how far the accuracy of those methods extends.