June 30, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Background checks to start Oct. 1 on Michigan home health care aides

Lansing — The state health and human services departments plan to begin criminal history background checks Oct. 1 on 60,000 in-home workers after an audit found nearly 3,800 felons working in the Medicaid-funded program.

But the heads of the two state agencies said Monday the federal government will not let them prohibit felons with violent crime convictions from working as home help aides for disabled adults on the Medicaid health care program for low-income residents.

Federal rules tied to Medicaid funding only prohibit the hiring of felons who were convicted of crimes committed while working in the program, such as health care fraud, neglect or abuse, said Jim Haveman, director of the Department of Community Health.

“We’ve got to go with that,” Haveman told reporters.

A scathing Auditor General report earlier this month found 572 home care workers had violent crime convictions ranging from assault to homicide and 285 workers had sex-related convictions as of January 2013.

State auditors took the two departments to task for not requiring background checks. The Auditor General’s background checks using a Michigan State Police database also found home care workers had 2,020 drug convictions and 1,148 convictions for financial crimes such as embezzlement, identify theft and fraud.

Starting Oct. 1, the state departments of Community Health and Human Services plan to begin running criminal history background checks on the 60,000 aides who assist Medicaid patients with bathing, dressing, cooking and cleaning.

“We’re trying to craft policy that’s responsive to the federal law,” DHS Director Maura Corrigan said.

Through an “informed consent” policy, Medicaid recipients will be given information about the criminal histories of their caregivers and have a choice of whether to keep them employed in their home, Corrigan said.

“This will help the beneficiaries decide if they want to use that person or not,” Haveman said.

The state will pay for the background checks, but the total cost remains unknown, he said.

Corrigan said the agencies are trying to shed light on any criminal histories of home care workers while giving patients the right to hire family members who have felonies to care for them.

“We’re attempting to craft a policy that we can live with right now by balancing informed consent against protecting the beneficiaries we serve,” Corrigan said.

Advocates for the disabled have criticized Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration for eliminating funding for the former Michigan Quality Community Care Council, which operated a small registry of home care workers who had to submit to criminal background checks.

Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature dismantled the council because it was used to force low-paid home care workers to join the Service Employees International Union — a scheme the conservative Mackinac Center for Public Policy dubbed a “dues skim.”

“Taking away the registry was a huge mistake that opened the door to many of the problems cited in the audit of Michigan’s Home Help program,” Marge Robinson, president of SEIU Healthcare Michigan, said Monday in a statement. “The Snyder administration needs to give real and robust solutions, not more lip service, and that includes putting in place a registry right away.”

The council’s registry, however, was optional and patients could obtain the background checks from prospective caregivers only after asking for them. According to SEIU, criminal background checks on about 2,200 workers were performed biannually.

Haveman acknowledged Monday the now-defunct registry’s limited voluntary background checks, while Corrigan said she was unaware of the registry’s existence.

“I don’t think it was even set up to provide this,” Haveman said. “It was a whole different operation. We’re adding the substance to the program.”

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