Pa­tients in the dark on aides’ pasts

Var­i­ous rea­sons are cited for why the state isn’t giv­ing out free back­ground checks of home care work­ers.

Los Angeles Times - - Latextra - Evan Halper re­port­ing from sacra­mento

Al­though Gov. Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger has de­manded that the Leg­is­la­ture pre­vent vi­o­lent felons from work­ing in the state’s home health aide pro­gram, ac­tivists say his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ac­tion has kept vul­ner­a­ble re­cip­i­ents from learn­ing if their care­taker has a crim­i­nal record.

Un­der a law that Sch­warzeneg­ger signed more than two years ago, the 440,000 el­derly, ill and dis­abled re­cip­i­ents of In-Home Sup­port­ive Ser­vices are sup­posed to be en­ti­tled to request free crim­i­nal back­ground checks of the peo­ple hired to care for them in their res­i­dences. But no one is get­ting free records.

Lo­cal agen­cies charged with pro­vid­ing the his­to­ries say they are not do­ing so be­cause the ad­min­is­tra­tion has yet to is­sue rules im­ple­ment­ing the law or ap­pro­pri­ate money for the work.

“We have re­ceived no in­struc­tions from the state on how to do this,” said Karen Keeslar, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Assn. of Pub­lic Au­thor­i­ties for IHSS.

The au­thor­i­ties are quasi-gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies that man­age hir­ing for the home care pro­gram. Un­der SB 692 by Sen. Roy Ash­burn (R-Bak­ers­field), signed into law in 2008, they should be pro­vid­ing the free crim­i­nal his­to­ries on request.

“That is not hap­pen­ing,” Keeslar said. “We strongly sup­port the prin­ci­ple of con­sumers hav­ing an in­formed choice.... [But] we can’t do this un­til the ad­min­is­tra­tion ful­fills its obli­ga­tions.”

She said the au­thor­i­ties need di­rec­tion on what funds they can use to pay for the back­ground checks, how they can pro­vide the in­for­ma­tion to care re­cip­i­ents with­out vi­o­lat­ing pri­vacy and em­ploy­ment laws meant to pro­tect work­ers, and how to con­duct out­reach. She said only those who pay for the re­search are get­ting back­ground in­for­ma­tion, and many peo­ple don’t even know they have the right to request it.

Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices Di­rec­tor John Wag­ner ac­knowl­edged that reg­u­la­tions have yet to be pub­lished, say­ing in an in­ter­view that they are un­nec­es­sary be­cause re­ports are be­ing pro­vided to care re­cip­i­ents who ask for them.

Later, how­ever, he re­versed him­self and said the pro­vi­sion of state law through which the free crim­i­nal his­to­ries were to be pro­vided be­came in­op­er­a­tive as a re­sult of a con­flict­ing statute al­ready on the books — an in­ter­pre­ta­tion that ac­tivists dis­pute.

Wag­ner said the ad­min­is­tra­tion has not worked more ag­gres­sively to pro­vide crim­i­nal his­to­ries be­cause it is fo­cused on pro­hibit­ing felons from work­ing in the pro­gram.

“Had we been able to roll out those changes as we in­tended, there would not be a need for con­sumers to go through the process” of re­quest­ing back­ground checks, he said.

But a court de­ci­sion un­der­mined the depart­ment’s plans. Alameda County Su­pe­rior Court Judge David Hunter ruled in March that the pro­gram’s rules al­low only a nar­row group of felons to be de­nied em­ploy­ment as home care work­ers. His de­ci­sion has left scores of peo­ple con­victed of such crimes as rape, murder, as­sault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse and child abuse in the pro­gram as care providers.

Now, ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say pro­vid­ing copies of back­ground checks to those who ask for them does not do enough to ad­dress the prob­lem. Ex­ist­ing pri­vacy laws con­tinue to pre­vent in­ves­ti­ga­tors who screen work­ers for the pro­gram from warn­ing re­cip­i­ents about any in­for­ma­tion they find — and vi­o­lent crim­i­nals can still get jobs as care work­ers.

But ad­vo­cates say the ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to do a bet­ter job of us­ing the tools it al­ready has to pro­tect peo­ple.

“If they had done what they were sup­posed to do, peo­ple would have ac­cess to crim­i­nal back­ground checks,” said Deb­o­rah Doc­tor, leg­isla­tive ad­vo­cate for Dis­abil­ity Rights Cal­i­for­nia, an ad­vo­cacy group. “Now it is like a se­cret law.”

evan.halper@latimes.com

SPLASH:

Mel Mel­con

Irina Levi walks un­der the Santa Mon­ica Pier, where wa­ter-qual­ity im­prove­ments earned the beach its clean­est rat­ing in years.

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