House bill would protect seniors

Measure intended to update protective services act

HARRISBURG — A House panel heard testimony Wednesday on legislation that would impact staff hiring at nursing homes and the protection of senior citizens’ financial savings.

The legislation, House Bill 2549, sponsored by Chairman Tim Hennessey, R-Chester, is the subject of a two-day hearing before the Aging and Older Adult Services Committee.

This bill would update the three-decade-old state Older Adults Protective Services Act.

The measure is a response to a 2015 Commonwealth Court ruling in Peake v. Commonwealth, which declared it was unconstitutional for a conviction for specific crimes listed under the protective services act to result in a lifetime employment ban without further evaluation.

Since the ruling, the state Aging Department has told aging service providers that criminal background checks for hires are still required under the law. The department recommends that providers consult with an attorney to look at the court’s guide on hiring decisions while waiting for a legislative fix.

Hennessey’s bill would set new guidelines and procedures in the wake of the court ruling for hiring someone with a criminal history in the long-term care sector.

Job applicants would be subject to state police and FBI criminal background checks under the bill.

The legislation would create four tiers of specific crimes that would be subject to a lifetime employment ban, 25-year ban, 10-year ban and five-year ban. For example, a conviction relating to rape would result in a lifetime ban and conviction for burglary would result in a 10-year ban. A job applicant could seek a departmental waiver from a ban.

HB2549 would also require financial institutions to train employees to detect signs of potential financial abuse involving an older adult and how to report an abuse. It details procedures for financial institutions to follow to freeze transactions when financial exploitation may have occurred.

“We’ve tried to strike a medium,” said Hennessey about the bill adding the first priority is to protect the elderly.

The first day of hearings drew testimony from officials of associations representing nursing homes, personal care homes, retirement communities, home health care providers and bankers. They endorsed some provisions and called for amendments to others.

“We would appreciate simplification of the tiers so that the results of the Pennsylvania State police background checks are easier to interpret,” said Anne Henry, senior vice president of LeadingAgePA.

W. Russell McDaid, president of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said the bill, as written, would do more harm than good to long-term care in Pennsylvania.

It would be better to have just two tiers — one for crimes warranting a lifetime ban and a 10-year ban for other crimes — said McDaid.

“Providers are finding it more difficult each and every day to recruit and retain a skilled workforce,” he said. “While this is both a product of the harsh environment we face here in the commonwealth and the surging economy that has unemployment near historical lows, this is the wrong time to present additional hiring challenges to providers.”

The hearing is scheduled to resume today with testimony from Teresa Osborne, secretary of the Department of Aging, and advocates for the elderly.