Long-Term Care Facilities:

Information on Residents Who Are Registered Sex Offenders or Are Paroled for Other Crimes

GAO-06-326: Published: Mar 31, 2006. Publicly Released: May 8, 2006.

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Approximately 23,000 nursing homes and intermediate care facilities for people with mental retardation (ICF-MR) receive federal Medicare and Medicaid funding. Media reports have cited examples of convicted sex offenders residing in long-term care facilities and, in some cases, allegedly abusing other residents. Given concerns about resident safety, GAO was asked to assess (1) the prevalence of sex offenders and others on parole for non-sex offenses living in long-term care facilities and the extent of any abuse they may have caused, (2) the legal requirements for notifying facilities and others when offenders are residents, and (3) the extent to which facilities have different supervision and separation requirements for offenders. GAO analyzed a national database for sex offenders and analyzed state databases in a sample of eight states for sex offenders and parolees.

By analyzing the FBI's National Sex Offender Registry (NSOR), which is a compilation of sex offender registries submitted by all states, GAO identified about 700 registered sex offenders living in nursing homes or ICFs-MR during 2005. Most identified sex offenders were male, under age 65, and living in nursing homes, and represented 0.05 percent of the 1.5 million residents of nursing homes and ICFs-MR. About 3 percent of nursing homes and 0.7 percent of ICFs-MR housed at least 1 identified sex offender during 2005. However, these estimates are understated due to data limitations. For example, because of a lack of resources or an inability to comply with certain FBI reporting requirements, states have had varying degrees of difficulty submitting their full state registries to the NSOR. While the FBI does not track NSOR submission rates, GAO compared sex offender registry data from seven of the eight states reviewed to NSOR data and found that the NSOR data included about 57 percent of sex offenders registered in these states, with submission rates ranging from 1 percent to 83 percent. Because a national data source on parolees that included address information was not available, GAO also obtained parolee databases from the eight reviewed states and identified 204 offenders on parole for non-sex offenses living in long-term care facilities. GAO could not determine the overall risk that registered sex offenders and parolees pose to other residents in long-term care facilities because offender status is not tracked with abuse reporting. Facility administrators expressed greater concern over the risk posed by cognitively impaired or mentally ill residents. Federal law requires state law enforcement agencies to release relevant information about registered sex offenders when necessary to protect the public, but GAO did not identify a similar federal law for the parolee population. States have broad discretion in how to implement the requirement for registered sex offender notification. Therefore, the extent to which states' community notification laws apply to all registered sex offenders or explicitly include long-term care facilities varies. For example, four of the eight states GAO reviewed--California, Illinois, Minnesota, and Oklahoma--had laws that specified long-term care facilities as entities to be notified for at least some registered sex offenders who entered them. However, some facility administrators GAO contacted were uncertain as to whether they could share information with staff and others about residents who were known offenders in light of the Privacy Rule issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Long-term care facilities GAO contacted do not routinely impose different supervision or separation requirements on residents who are offenders based solely on their prior convictions. Instead, these facilities base such decisions on the demonstrated behaviors of residents. Even if long-term care facilities wanted to impose different supervision and separation requirements on offenders, their ability to do so is limited because they are not always aware of residents' prior convictions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Agency implemented recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should direct the FBI to assess the completeness of the NSOR, including state submission rates.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency task force took action to make NSOR a more comprehensive national database of registered sex offenders. For more information see accomplishment report GAO-08-598A.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should direct the FBI to evaluate options for making NSOR a more a comprehensive national database of registered sex offenders.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice


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