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People with Criminal Records Cleared for Caregiving Jobs in Minnesota

January 19, 2012

In the last six years, thousands of Minnesotans with criminal records were granted state waivers allowing them to pursue jobs as long-term caregivers, according to a recent article in the Minnesota Star Tribune.

Under Minnesota law, many criminal convictions automatically disqualify job-seekers from employment at nursing homes, home care agencies, assisted living facilities, and group homes.

But the state waived that stipulation for more than 5,000 former criminals seeking caregiving jobs in the last half-dozen years. It is not clear how many of those people went on to obtain jobs in care facilities and at home care agencies.

The Star Tribune also reported that more than 900 aides who got jobs as nursing aides in Minnesota since 2000 despite having a criminal conviction on their record.

Of those 900-plus caregivers, 44 of them — approximately 5 percent — went on to commit another crime.

“Criminal background checks are an appropriate requirement for employment as a direct-care worker, and evidence of serious law breaking should disqualify people from caring for vulnerable Minnesotans,” said PHI Curriculum and Workforce Development National Director Peggy Powell. “But people who have relatively minor misdemeanors on their records should be given a second chance to contribute to society.”

Program Highlights Recruitment Challenges

“Minnesota’s waiver program demonstrates the challenges we face — both here in Minnesota and on a national level — recruiting the best, brightest, and most highly skilled people to do this important work,” said Amy Hewitt, a senior research associate at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration.

“Unfortunately, articles such as the Star Tribune’s contribute to the widespread perception that direct support positions are staffed primarily by criminals — which is emphatically not true,” Hewitt continued.

“Until we recognize the value of the direct support workforce by offering robust training and credentialing programs, living wages, and access to benefits, employers and individuals will continue to have difficulty attracting top talent to these jobs,” she concluded.

Concern for Elders

Martin Kennedy, director of the Division of Continuing Care Providers with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), told the Star Tribune, “There are a lot of criminals who end up trying to go to work in long-term care, and that places those residents at risk.”

Studies show that approximately 14 percent of elders are abused each year. A Government Accountability Office report issued last March, however, determined that this figure almost certainly underestimates the extent of yearly elder abuse in the U.S., since the vast majority of elder abuse goes unreported.

A 2005 report (pdf) by the National Center on Elder Abuse, a government agency, found that elder abuse does take place in long-term care settings. Nevertheless, “the great majority of abusers are family members, most often an adult child or spouse,” not direct-care workers, the report stated.

In 2009, the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, another government agency, issued a report (7 MB pdf) showing that more than three-fourths (76 percent) of physical elder abuse was perpetrated by someone related to the abused elder.

A CMS-endorsed training curriculum designed to prevent elder abuse and neglect is available as a free download at the PHI website.

— by Matthew Ozga

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