ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Department of Human Services is working to get employers ready for a new law that requires fingerprinting and photographs of tens of thousands of people who care for children, the elderly and other vulnerable populations.
The change, which was enacted this year amid opposition from privacy advocates, is designed to intensify criminal background checks for caregivers. It is seen as the most ambitious expansion of state caregiver screening since the state started conducting these reviews in 1991.
The Star Tribune reported that five nursing homes around the state are testing the new fingerprint-based criminal background check system this month.
By January, all newly hired caregivers who work in homes or at state-licensed facilities will go through the fingerprint process at designated stations in the state, and over time the checks will be expanded to include up to 200,000 caregivers.
Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said the system will increase the accuracy, speed and efficiency of background checks and bring Minnesota in line with many other states.
“We’re going to get more timely results, which is good for employees, good for employers, but mostly because they’re more accurate, it’s good for vulnerable children and adults all around our state,” she told Minnesota Public Radio News.
Criminal background checks are run on about 1,200 Minnesota caregivers a day, or 250,000 each year. The state estimates some 2,500 pass despite criminal records.
The current checks are based on a person’s name and date of birth. About 85 percent of checks are done in 48 hours, but some job applicants with common names can see their background checks delayed for weeks because of “false hits” on people with similar names.
In addition, workers at state-licensed facilities have to go through background checks only when they switch employers. So, if a worker is in the same job for years, a serious criminal offense could go undetected. But under the new system, regulators will get regular updates on criminal court proceedings, so officials will know within hours whether a caregiver is convicted of a crime.
The department will start training employers on the new system this summer. Fingerprint stations will open around the state between January and April of next year.
Critics say a data breach could put the personal information of thousands of people into the hands of criminals.
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