Montana state hospital worker bypassed background check by using different name

Montana state hospital worker bypassed background check by using different name

Excerpted from an article in The Independent by Seaborn Larson

A former employee at the Montana state-run psychiatric hospital used a different name on her job application, meaning a background check that should have raised a red flag on her employment history didn’t, according to the state health department.

The facility’s “inadvertent” employment of Larissa Mack, a former psychiatric technician who spent five years at the facility, ultimately cost the Montana State Hospital nearly $90,000 in a settlement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.

A spokesperson for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services said Thursday that Mack used a different last name on her application in 2016 than the one that identifies her on the List of Excluded Individuals and Entities kept by the Office of Inspector General. In 2021, Mack applied for a different job at the state hospital, this time with the name registered on the OIG’s exclusion list, department spokesperson Jon Ebelt said.

Ebelt said Montana State Hospital does check the OIG’s exclusion list for all aliases, but relies on the candidate to disclose all aliases when they apply for a job. The exclusion list does allow employers to verify the individual’s social security numbers, but Ebelt said the initial search is name-based, meaning someone could subvert the inquiry by applying with a different last name, or, for example, using their maiden name.

Still, Ebelt said state hospital background check forms ask the candidates directly if they have been excluded by the OIG from working in a health care setting that receives federal funding.

“We believe we are doing everything we can to prevent situations like this from occurring,” Ebelt said Thursday. “We believe this to be an isolated incident.”

In January, the state health department checked all current Montana State Hospital employees against the exclusion list and confirmed no additional employees were on the list, Ebelt said.

Records available online with the OIG show Mack’s registered nursing license had been terminated in Washington State in 2009. Public licensing records with that state outline an incident in 2007 in which Mack appeared intoxicated at work and a blood test revealed several drugs in her system. The licensing commission only revoked her nursing license after she failed to comply with a substance-use disorder program.

Ebelt said Thursday Mack’s listing with the OIG was the only reason for her termination from the state hospital and that the department took “immediate” action after uncovering her listing. Roughly a month after her employment ended, the state health department self-reported the finding to the OIG.

The Montana State News Bureau obtained the state hospital’s settlement with the OIG through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Of the $89,233.26 the state hospital agreed to pay the OIG, $59,488.84 is restitution for federal funds paid to the state hospital for services Mack provided. The remaining amount is a monetary penalty for employing someone on the exclusion list.

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