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Feb. 1, 2005

$5 million grant to fund program to improve nursing-home employee background checks

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State University researchers, partnering with several State of Michigan agencies, will use a $5 million grant to design and develop a new comprehensive background-check system for employees at Michigan’s nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

The three-year grant will help bring together MSU, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), the Family Independence Agency (FIA) and the Michigan State Police to serve as a federal pilot site for a background-check system for people who work in these facilities.

This state-of-the-art system, involving digital scans and sophisticated human-computer interface, will allow Michigan agencies to conduct more effective background checks on employees who provide direct service to persons in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, adult foster care and hospice services.

The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. MSU and MDCH were the co-applicants for this funding. The system will be piloted at FIA and DCH, which provide licensing and oversight of the various employers of the direct-service providers. The system will be integrated with existing systems at the Michigan State Police and networked with the criminal history files from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“There are three parts to this project – public policy, research and outreach,” said Lori Post, an assistant professor and violence researcher in MSU’s Department of Family and Child Ecology and co-director of the project. “MSU is the ideal place to conduct this type of research, policy development and subsequent outreach given our land-grant mission of service to the state as well as our ability to develop a multidisciplinary response to address significant social problems.”

The project’s goal is to develop and implement a standardized system of background checks for all employees with direct access to patients, Post said. This will be accomplished through legislation, increasing the number of employees who receive checks, improving the thoroughness of the checks and making it easier to share information among state agencies.

“Current law does not require all employees with direct access to our most vulnerable populations to undergo a background check,” Post said. “And for those who are subject to a background check, there is no systematic process across the various agencies to conduct the checks, to disseminate findings, or to follow through on results.

“Essentially, what we want to do is keep the bad guys out and the good guys in,” she said.

“One of the research-related goals for the project is to ensure that the new background check process and the technologies built to support it are effective and efficient,” said Sarah Swierenga, director of the MSU Usability and Accessibility Center and co-director of the project. “We want to design a useful, usable system for health-care workers and background check analysts, which will make the transition to the enhanced system easier.”

Another part of the project will address an anticipated shortage of workers at nursing homes and other similar facilities.

“It’s anticipated,” said Post, “that by 2025 there will be a five-year increase in the median age of Michigan’s population, while at the same time a decrease in the numbers of qualified workers in the health care and related professions.”

The grant is part of a federal program designed to improve the nation’s nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Michigan is one of six states conducting a pilot.

“Health-care professions are a significant and growing source of employment in Michigan,” said James Oehmke, a professor of agricultural economics and one of the project leaders. “Using this pilot project we can create a win-win situation. We can protect our vulnerable populations at the same time we continue to expand job opportunities for honest and qualified workers.”

“The goals and processes involved with this grant work are an excellent example of how key segments of state government can come together to address significant community problems,” said Hiram Fitzgerald, MSU assistant provost for university outreach and engagement. “MSU has a strong commitment to outreach and engagement through scholarship, applied research and the talented resources of our faculty and staff. We are pleased to participate in a pilot that will work to improve quality of care for Michigan’s elderly citizens.”

“This program will help enhance Michigan's reputation as a state that cares about patient rights, a state that is innovative and aggressive in protecting its senior citizens,” said Charles Salmon, acting dean of the College of Communication Arts and Sciences.