Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nursing Home Screening Misses Worker's Warrant

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nursing Home Screening Misses Worker's Warrant

Article excerpt

If Barbara Ann Harris had been stopped for a broken taillight or some other routine traffic stop in St. Johns County, the officer would have arrested her on a warrant charging her with abusing an elderly man at a nursing home in 1996.

But a criminal background check requested by the assisted-living facility that was considering hiring Harris failed to reveal the warrant or that she was the target of a complaint to the state abuse registry.

Harris was arrested Jan. 27 at Village Oaks at Orange Park not because the system worked, but because after a few weeks on the job she had become a suspect in two thefts at the facility. A detective who was asked to investigate the thefts checked Harris' record and found the warrant, which had been in the system nearly two years.

The warrant accuses Harris, 41, of dragging a 79-year-old man with Alzheimer's across the floor of Wesley Manor nursing home by his feet. The incident, which required medical treatment, occurred on Sept. 23, 1996, according to the charging document filed by prosecutors in St. Johns County.

Harris' case reveals holes in a system that screens potential health care employees in three ways: criminal records, complaints to the state abuse registry and licensing problems. The system is designed to protect disabled and elderly people living in facilities regulated by the state.

Marriott International, which opened the assisted-living facility on Kingsley Avenue a month ago, is stunned that the background screening required by the state turned up nothing.

Marriott International, which opened the assisted-living facility on Kingsley Avenue a month ago, is stunned that the background screening required by the state turned up nothing.

"Village Oaks' management had initiated all state required background checks on the associate," according to a statement from the corporate office in Houston. "At the time of her arrest, all responses received indicated no criminal history."

The head of the department that conducts the criminal background checks said the case bothered her, too.

"Anytime one person slips through the cracks we're concerned," said Donna Uzzell, director of criminal justice information services at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. …

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