R.I. AG presents legislation for personal care assistant background checks

By Bryan Cohen | Apr 12, 2013

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Legal Newsline) - Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin presented legislation Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee to protect seniors and other vulnerable populations by regulating background checks for personal care attendants.

The legislation, S0461 in the Senate and H5538 in the House, would require all personal care assistants to be subject to a national background check, obtain a certificate of registration issued by the Department of Health and train for the position. As part of the Global Medicaid Waiver, the state of Rhode Island received permission from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to offer seniors more options, including the expanded use of personal care assistants.

"For patient safety, especially due to the vulnerability of our seniors, workers in this field need to be subject to a national background check, training and regulation," Kilmartin said. "As more patients return to (their homes) under the Global Medicaid Waiver, we need to ensure the most vulnerable are being treated by professional workers to protect them from victimization and exploitation."

The legislation would require biannual renewal of registrations for PCAs through the completion of continuing education. PCAs who fail to renew required licenses could be suspended or have their certificates revoked.

Personal care assistants do not provide medical services, but they do provide services to help consumers stay in their homes, including transportation, household tasks and grooming.

"Although personal care assistants do not provide medical services, they provide assistance with physical activities, such as grooming and bathing, and financial activities, such as paying bills and shopping, as well as companionship for their clients," Kilmartin said. "I think it is necessary, due to the intimate physical tasks required of personal care assistants, that they be required to receive a national criminal records check and basic training, as well as individualized training to suit the needs of their client."

The legislation would allows the Department of Health to deny, suspend or revoke a PCA's certificate or registration if he or she fails to comply with requirements or engages in a disqualifying offense. The legislation would also levy criminal penalties and fines against people who fraudulently serve as personal care assistants.

According to Medicaid Fraud Units across the U.S., more than 50 percent of reported Medicaid fraud causes involve home care services. In Rhode Island, Medicaid fraud accounts for 1 to 2 percent of Kilmartin's Medicaid Fraud Unit's case load.

"From my viewpoint, this is a safety issue for our most vulnerable citizens and a fiscal issue for taxpayers," Kilmartin said. "While it would be optimistic to say that Rhode Island has such a low percentage of Medicaid fraud attributed to home care services because these criminal acts are not occurring, it is likely due to the fact that personal care attendants are not aptly regulated. Therefore, there is not an adequate process currently in place to determine whether fraud is taking place."

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