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August 23, 2005

Gov. Blagojevich signs legislation to make nursing homes safer
New law requires criminal background checks for more employees at long-term facilities

SPRINGFIELD – In an effort to make the state’s nursing homes and other health care facilities safer, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation to expand the types of employees at long-term care facilities who must undergo criminal background checks. House Bill 2531 requires health care facilities to initiate background checks for employees that have contact with residents.  Before this law, only direct care staff members were subjected to background checks.
“Families deserve the peace of mind of knowing that their loved ones are safe. That’s why my administration is making every effort to protect residents of nursing homes and other health care facilities in Illinois.  Furthering our effort, this law requires facilities to know more about who they have working for them to better safeguard their residents.”
House Bill 2531, initiated by the Illinois Department of Public Health and sponsored by Rep. Kevin Joyce (D-Worth) and Sen. Edward D. Maloney (D-Chicago), requires that Illinois health care facilities initiate a criminal history record check for all employees, excluding physicians, hired on or after that date with duties that may involve contact with residents, access to their living quarters or access to their financial, medical or personal records.  Currently, only certified nurse aides and other direct care, unlicensed staff are included in the background checks.  The law is effective January 1st, 2006.
The changes to the Health Care Worker Background Check Act will allow the Illinois Department of Public Health to use a $2.5 million grant received earlier this year from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) to upgrade the process of conducting criminal history record checks for employees with direct care access to individuals in long-term care facilities.
The three-year grant will be used to expand the state’s long-term care employee background check program by requiring the use of fingerprint-based criminal history record checks.  The current system is a name-based criminal history record for direct care, non-licensed staff.
“This grant will expand the number of healthcare employees who must submit to background checks and will require a more thorough background check of those workers,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director.  “The combination of the two will help improve the quality of care provided in Illinois.”
The Department is one of seven states selected to participate in the National Healthcare Background Check Pilot Project, administered by CMS.
As part of the pilot project, selected health care employers would be phased in to participate in the program between Jan. 1, 2006, and Jan. 1, 2007.  Selected employers could include nursing homes, community living facilities, home health agencies, hospices, assisted living facilities, supportive living facilities, day training programs, or community integrated living arrangements.  Employees would have their fingerprints submitted to the Illinois State Police (ISP) and the FBI, which would then furnish records of convictions to the Department.  If the employee has a disqualifying offense as outlined in the Health Care Worker Background Check Code, such as murder, criminal sexual assault, forgery or robbery, the employee will not be allowed to work at the facility.
With the fingerprint-based search, the ISP will retain the fingerprint images and any future convictions will automatically be reported to the Department.  Under the current system, convictions that occur after the search would not be reported until after another search is conducted.
“The fingerprint-based criminal history records check is a more thorough screening process,” said Dr. Whitaker.  “This will result in faster and more complete criminal conviction information, which can be used to assure and protect the health, safety and welfare of nursing home residents in the state.”
“This legislation will allow IDPH to implement a federal grant that will help improve the care given to nursing home residents as well as prevent problems that may be caused by employees who have no business working in a long-term care facility. I am glad the Governor continues to enact legislation that will protect our seniors and the most vulnerable in the state of Illinois,” Rep. Joyce said.
“This new law will further strengthen the state’s efforts to protect those living in nursing homes, many of whom are unable to protect themselves,” Sen. Maloney said.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) was a strong proponent of the legislation. 
“Instituting a thumbprint system and extending the background check requirements to cover all facility personnel that have access to residents and their records serves to plug the holes in the current system and offer more protection to our state’s frailest population,” said Donna Ginther, manager of state affairs, AARP Illinois Legislative Office.


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