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The Sheriff's Department will run criminal record checks on everyone who applies for a job at a nursing home or adult-care facility in the county, if the County Legislature approves the idea Oct. 5.

The program, requested by nursing home operators, passed the Legislature's Public Safety Committee last week. It approved Sheriff Thomas A. Beilein's request to hire a part-time clerk to work exclusively on the background checks for 17 hours a week.

The salary of $10.88 per hour is to be covered by fees the nursing homes would pay, at $15 per background request. The program is to begin Oct. 18 and cost $2,191 for the rest of this year.

Said Beilein: "This is not something (the nursing homes) are required to do. This is something they want to do." It would apply only to job applicants, not to existing employees.

The proposal originated with Ann Briody Petock, administrator of Briody Health Care Facility in Lockport, and Robert F. Harrington, administrator of Mount View Health Facility, the county-owned nursing home.

Harrington said the law allows nursing homes to require job applicants to sign a waiver allowing the background checks as a condition of being considered for employment.

Beilein said in many locations, "Employees have been hired who subsequently abused patients, and turned out to have criminal records." The most notorious such incident occurred in Rochester a few years ago, when a nursing home worker raped a comatose woman, who became pregnant and delivered a baby.

Harrington said nursing homes tend to have a high rate of employee turnover, and many of the jobs are part-time.

A survey of 21 nursing homes in the county, conducted by Briody Petock, received 17 responses. It estimated there are 1,294 persons newly hired for nursing home or adult day facility jobs every year in Niagara County.

Briody Petock said, "It's something we wanted to do for a long time, but it's hard to do. . . . The Sheriff's Department is going to check all the municipalities for us for misdemeanors and felonies. We are doing this to ensure that we have trustworthy employees working with our residents. That's an indication of whether they have good moral character, if they have a criminal record."

Briody Petock said a finding of a criminal record would not necessarily mean an automatic rejection of the job application. "It depends what the crime was," she said.

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