Maintain the “Health” of Your Facility with Comprehensive Pre-Employment Background Screenings

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By David C. Sawyer, CPP

In today’s fast-paced society the need for speed often supersedes thoroughness, but in the absence of comprehensive background checks on prospective healthcare employees, haste can result in waste…and sometimes worse.

Background checks are not a “one size fits all” commodity; as such it is imperative that employers consider the inherent risks associated with each position when determining the searches and testing conducted in a pre-employment assessment.  Ultimately, the greater the risk involved in a particular role, the more comprehensive the background check.

Healthcare workers often have unsupervised contact with patients in their most vulnerable states; inasmuch the risks associated with a bad hire could literally be matters of life and death.  Standard drug tests may not be adequate for healthcare employees who will have access to a large variety of medications that are deemed highly addictive.  Facilities should examine the types of medications to which employees will have access and test for the presence of those drugs in prospective hires.

As many healthcare professionals are required to maintain specific licensing, background checks in this area should include verification that any and all required licenses and certifications are valid and current.  The hiring organization should also check for past license suspensions and sanctions that may have been imposed against the licensed individual.

A number of states have requirements in place that mandate criminal record checks for healthcare workers; however in today’s mobile society, simply complying with such a regulation may prove woefully inadequate.  The prospective hire may have a criminal history in another state, a record of which won’t be included in a search of records specific to the hiring state.

Consider also that significant differences exist between a national database search, a real-time county level search and a state repository investigation.  Each has its advantages and disadvantages as well as considerable cost differences.

The best place to search for a criminal record is at the original source – the courthouse where the record originated.   Since that could be county or federal court, it’s wise to work with a professional background screening organization with an established national network of court researchers.  In this way, a request can be sent automatically to a local researcher who knows how to navigate the court system in that particular jurisdiction.

A county or federal district court search yields the most accurate and up-to-date criminal record information available and should always be used to verify results from the quicker but often less reliable database searches…especially if a record possibly matching a potential employee shows up.

Having the correct identification information is vital to conducting a criminal search…and people hiding a past they know might prevent them from getting a job can be good at keeping a secret.  Reporting a false date of birth may be enough to bring back a “no record found” on the report when a serious criminal conviction actually exists.

Imagine the potential harm if an employee is involved in a workplace act of violence, drug theft or other criminal offense because your facility didn’t have knowledge of past similar occurrences.

It should also be noted that while the Internet has made the screening process somewhat simple and inexpensive, relying on this method of background check might result in catastrophe – without knowing what to look for and where to find it, information can be confusing and/or misleading.

Plus you may be treading on illegal ground, for while you have the right to obtain specific information when conducting a pre-employment background check, those rights are not unlimited.  Employees are entitled to privacy in certain areas and if those rights are violated, legal action can be taken against you.

By learning the fundamentals of a comprehensive screening or working with a professional screening company you and the patients treated at your facility can rest easier knowing that all employees have been thoroughly vetted.

David Sawyer is President of Safer Places, Inc., www.saferplacesinc.com, a firm based in Massachusetts that provides background screening for the healthcare and other industries as well as security services.