CHARLESTON, W.Va. –– The state Department of Health and Human Resources announced plans Wednesday to require criminal background checks with long-term health care workers in West Virginia.

Applicants will now have to undergo both state and federal background checks though a program called West Virginia Clearance for Access: Registry and Employment Screening (WV CARES).

Before the program was introduced Monday, each facility had the responsibility of running a state check. Facilities only ran a federal check if the person lived outside West Virginia in the last five years. The change will now require everyone to undergo a state and federal screening.

The screenings would be required for any healthcare worker with access to a patient’s resident or beneficiaries of long-term care services.

The services include skilled nursing facilities, nursing facilities, home health agencies, hospice care, long-term care hospitals, personal care services, adult day care and residential care providers.

Workers employed in assisted living facilities and intermediate care facilitates for those with intellectual disabilities would also be required to pass the screening.

“(We want) to make sure that we provide as much protection to that vulnerable population that those facilities are serving,” said WV CARES program manager Meghan Sheers.

The program will be phased in over the next six months. Sheers said conducting comprehensive background checks will make it unnecessary for workers to undergo new background checks or fingerprinting when they change long-term care employers in the state.

In a news release, state DHHR Cabinet Secretary Karen Bowling, who made the program announcement, said West Virginia’s long-term care facilities are home to approximately 12,000 residents and employ nearly 18,000 direct access workers.

“The new program will reduce the potential for abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly and other vulnerable adults by ensuring that individuals with certain criminal histories will not become direct access workers in long-term care in the Mountain State,” Bowling said.

Sheers said the program is important to West Virginia because they want to ensure facilities have the best employees.

“Someone could have been arrested in another state and by only running a West Virginia background check, we’re not going to pick up the defenses from other places,” she said. “You could have someone who has a very violent history serving in a facility and not know it without the additional check.”

In Sheers’ opinion, the background checks will be more comforting to the patient and his or her family.

“I know I would feel much more comfortable knowing that the people that were taking care of my loved one are going through all these checks to ensure that the facilities have the best possible employees there,” she said.

All providers will be using the new screening system by the beginning of 2016.

West Virginia is one of 25 states and territories that received a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for the National Background Check Program. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed legislation creating the program in April.

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