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March 7, 2006

MSU researchers developing and studying background check system for care of state’s most vulnerable patients

EAST LANSING, Mich. – The first phase of a statewide background check system developed by Michigan State University will go live April 1, allowing employers to better screen potential employees who work with patients in long-term care settings.

Last year, the state received a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for $5 million – with $4.1 million going to MSU – to develop and study a three-phase comprehensive system to improve background checks in facilities such as nursing homes, hospices and assisted living centers.

Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm recently signed legislation she called for last year to strengthen criminal background checks in long-term care settings. This legislation is one of the requirements in the funding to Michigan as a pilot state to develop and study improvements to the system. The state needed laws requiring background checks on those providing direct care to individuals receiving long-term care.

"We must do all that we can to protect our state's most vulnerable citizens in long-term care facilities," Granholm said. "I am grateful to the efforts of Michigan State University in developing a background check system to ensure that people who shouldn't have access to our loved ones don't."

After many months of development, the first phase of the system will soon be up and running, said Lori Post, assistant dean for research in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, who is in charge of developing the system. Expanded features will be in place this spring and fall for the second and third phases.

According to Post, employers will be able to expand background checks to include all prospective employees with direct access to vulnerable populations in a wider variety of health care settings. The new law requires that the background check be conducted prior to an individual's permanent employment.

As an expert in public health research technology, she will be evaluating the system’s overall impact and that of the recently passed legislation.

“Michigan will be able to scientifically determine if the new process is effective in reducing crimes against vulnerable populations. The research focus allows us to test impact and to better evaluate the results of the background check system,” Post said.

One of the first steps to evaluate the impact was to determine the percentage of Michigan households with a family member in long-term care. Through a recent phone survey, Post and other researchers determined that 6 percent of Michigan households fell into that category.

“This legislation will be a great help to our senior population. At the same time, federal support enables us to develop an enhanced process that is both efficient and effective,” said Post.

Sarah Swierenga, director of MSU’s Usability & Accessibility Center, is testing the system, and James Oehmke, professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics, is looking at its labor force implications.

“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. We want to design a useful tool for health care workers and background check analysts,” Swierenga said.

Michigan will incorporate most types of providers into its background-check pilot project, including skilled nursing facilities, long-term care hospitals, hospitals with swing beds, intermediate care facilities for persons with mental retardation, home health agencies, residential care and assisted living facilities, and hospices.

In addition to the Michigan Department of Community Health, partners involved in the research project include the Michigan Department of Human Services, Michigan State Police and various units at MSU.