Background checks aren't failsafe

By Sonya Colberg The Oklahoman & Gavin Off and Ginnie Graham - Tulsa World Staff Reporters Published: February 21, 2010

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series of stories investigating conditions in Oklahoma’s group homes for the mentally retarded, mentally ill and elderly. The investigation was conducted by reporters from the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman.

A convicted felon was cooking lunch when state inspectors walked into the Heartland Plaza kitchen in Duncan in November 2007.

“(The administrator) told me if y'all show up, I'm supposed to leave out the back door,” she said.

The cook worked there 18 months and was terminated. Two weeks later, she was rehired despite the former administrator's knowledge of the conviction, records show.

The felon earlier had also pleaded guilty to grand larceny and petit larceny, two more crimes that would bar her employment.

Lorena Afable, who has been the Heartland supervisor for two years, said they are now careful to get a background check on every employee. Heartland was fined $1,722 in November 2008 for violating the state's background check requirement and a new administrator is in place.

Heartland's former cook was one of at least 26 cases of failure to complete or review criminal background checks for residential care homes for the mentally ill and elderly since 2006, records show.

At Quality Living Residential Care in Bluejacket, criminal checks were not completed on three employees, including the administrator.

“I didn't think we needed one,” said the administrator, in a 2006 report.

Problems revealed

Homes for developmentally disabled, called Intermediate Care Facilities for People with Mental Retardation (ICFMR), have also failed to perform background checks.

Country Lane Cottage in Beggs hired two direct-care staff in late 2008, completed the criminal background checks but never reviewed the results, state Health Department reports show.

It took nearly a year before health officials discovered the employees were felons.

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