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June 27, 2007

MSU’s long-term care background check system becomes model for federal legislation



EAST LANSING, Mich. — Since the long-term care background check system developed by Michigan State University went into effect for the state of Michigan on April 1, 2006, nearly 4,000 of approximately 163,000 applicants were deemed unemployable because of records of abuse or criminal histories discovered during the process.

Because of its success, the system is now being used as a model for the rest of the country in legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate.

In 2005, MSU researchers partnered with several state agencies to develop and implement Michigan’s Workforce Background Check Program as one of seven pilot programs in the country funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The program is a Web-based informatics system developed in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences that integrates the databases of several registries and provides a mechanism for conducting criminal history checks on prospective employees, current employees, independent contractors and those granted clinical privileges in facilities.

“This system gives peace of mind to Michiganders with family members in long-term care, potentially saving lives and reducing injuries,” said Lori Post, assistant dean of research in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, who was in charge of developing the system.

“In addition, our incremental background check system has created a significant cost savings to taxpayers. And for every crime prevented, we save the family, the facility and the taxpayer money by reducing hiring and training charges, criminal justice investigations and social service support needed to recover from crimes,” Post said.

Orlene Christie, director of the Legislative and Statutory Compliance Office in the Michigan Department of Community Health, said the system identified thousands of applicants as unemployable during just one year of using the process. Applicants were excluded from hiring pools due to information found on the U.S. Health and Human Services exclusion list, the nurse aid registry, the sex offender registry, the offender tracking information system and the FBI list.

“The applicants who have been excluded from employment are not the types of people Michigan could ever allow to work with our most vulnerable citizens,” Christie said. “We have prevented hardened criminals, who otherwise would have access to our vulnerable population, from employment.”

Nursing home facilities were involved in the design of the system, an important element in the success and use of the system, Post said.

“The MSU team asked what I’d like to see in such a system, and I was pleased that they asked employers for feedback, and that has continued all along,” said Mary Bouchard, human resources coordinator at Burcham Hills retirement community. “When I have suggestions or questions, the MSU response is immediate. The system has streamlined our operations, too. Before, we had to go to many separate sites to check backgrounds – now the information is wrapped into one system.”

This month, the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act of 2007, based in part on Michigan’s program, was introduced in the U.S. Senate. Of the pilot programs, Michigan’s is statewide and the most comprehensive in terms of systems and cost-benefit analysis.

“Protecting the health and safety of our most vulnerable citizens should be a top priority,” said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, one of the original co-sponsors of the bill. “I am proud that much of this legislation is modeled after the successful Michigan pilot program, and working together we can expand on its progress.”

The system that MSU and the partner agencies developed gives long-term care providers online access to the system with a secure login and password, allowing them to check multiple registries. If no matches are found, applicants are sent to an independent vendor for a digital scan of their fingerprints, which are sent to the Michigan State Police (MSP) and to the FBI. If disqualifying information is found, notice is sent to either the Michigan Department of Community Health or the Michigan Department of Human Services for staff analysts to examine the applicant’s criminal history. An appeals process also was enacted to provide a fair system.

In addition, Michigan employs a “rap back” system by the MSP that notifies the state agencies of changes in a history including arrests, charges and convictions. The agencies, in turn, notify the employers.

The federal legislation would replicate a similar system nationwide.

“If enacted, this legislation could help to prevent many of the tragic tales of physical and financial elder abuse,” said U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, co-sponsor of the bill and chairperson of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “This bill would close gaping loopholes in our current system of background checks by expanding nationwide a pilot program that already has proven successful.”


Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.