Skip to main content

TribBlog: Protecting the Disabled

At least two elements of last session’s safety reforms at Texas’ institutions for the disabled — random drug testing and mandatory FBI fingerprinting of all potential employees — appear to be having a direct effect.

Austin State-Supported Living Center.

At least two elements of last session’s safety reforms at Texas’ institutions for the disabled — random drug testing and mandatory FBI fingerprinting of potential employees — appear to be having a direct effect.

Officials with the Department of Aging and Disability Services told lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday morning that the FBI fingerprinting practice, instituted after a sweeping abuse scandal in Texas' 13 state-supported living centers, has so far disqualified 214 job applicants — whose criminal records wouldn’t have been detected by a routine background check.

The background check, which searches records for names and related identifying information, “does not check aliases, and does not check criminal records in other states,” said agency Commissioner Chris Traylor. The fingerprinting helped address those potential weaknesses. “We prevented a large number of people [with serious criminal records] from having contact with vulnerable individuals,” Traylor said.

Meanwhile, since October, 50 employees at Texas’ state-supported living centers have been terminated for testing positive in drug tests; another 10 were dismissed for refusing the tests.

The FBI fingerprinting check, which searches for crimes the state believes should disqualify certain direct-care workers, comes at a cost: $50 a pop. So far, the agency has fingerprinted 5,000 people. State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, the chair of the committee, said the $50-per-check fee seemed steep. Still, he said it would likely be worth making such checks mandatory for private providers of care to the disabled that receive state and federal money.

“You have to assume you’ll find at least that many in the private settings, too,” he said. “The uproar you can possibly prevent by [paying for the checks] is probably worth whatever the cost is.”

Just a fraction of the surveillance cameras the state financed for the state-supported living centers — another safety measure instituted as part of last session's $112 million settlement with the Department of Justice — are in place, though the rest should be installed by the end of the year. Traylor said those that are already operational have been effective, in that allegations of abuse or neglect have been cleared up more quickly.

The footage “can be used during the investigation process,” he said.

Support public-service journalism that gets the context right

Yes, I'll donate today