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E-fingerprint sites not ready

By Jim Saunders
8/3/2010 © Health News Florida

Applicants for caregiver jobs face new background-screening requirements that went into effect Sunday. But a key part of the system --- the places where they get electronic fingerprinting --- isn't fully ready.

The state Agency for Health Care Administration, which had reassured worried health-care providers last week that screening sites would be available, sent an e-mail Friday acknowledging that a contractor, Cogent Systems, had fewer sites open than expected.

AHCA said providers would not be penalized if they could show they made "good-faith efforts" to meet the fingerprinting requirements.

State lawmakers passed the requirements this spring after an investigation by the Sun-Sentinel found that convicted felons and career criminals had been hired as caregivers for seniors, children and people with disabilities.

The South Florida paper reported that outdated laws allowed people to begin working before background checks were made.
On Monday, AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Durden said AHCA did not know how many sites were operating. She said the agency was working with Cogent to try to get as many sites operating as possible.

AHCA contracted with Cogent because it wanted a firm that could provide electronic-fingerprinting sites throughout the state. Analysis and approval can take weeks if fingerprint cards are mailed in.

But while Cogent opened fewer sites than expected, AHCA said caregivers can get fingerprint screening from other firms that have been approved by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Those firms are in various parts of the state.

The law, passed this spring, requires stepped-up screening for health and social-service jobs, such as caregivers in nursing homes and home-health agencies. Providers worried they might be barred from hiring if fingerprint screening could not be completed quickly.

Gov. Charlie Crist issued a statement last week touting the new law.

"The safety, security and well-being of children, elders and persons with disabilities is of the utmost importance, which is why we must be absolutely sure that those entrusted with their care are trustworthy and responsible," Crist said. "I am confident enhanced screening measures of those who work with these vulnerable populations is an added protection that will enhance public safety statewide."

The state wants background checks to be done through what is known as the LiveScan system. The AHCA website describes that system as similar to a sophisticated scanner and personal computer that can send fingerprint information to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which will forward it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has a list of approved vendors that use the technology. But AHCA asked for proposals from companies that wanted to be able to provide such screening statewide.

AHCA settled on Cogent, which will receive an $11 fee for each screening. Another $43.25 will go to the law-enforcement agencies, with workers or their prospective employers responsible for paying the costs.

A Cogent spokeswoman did not return a message left on her voice mail Monday.

Technically, the law took effect Aug. 1, but because that fell on Sunday, it became effective Monday.

--Capital Bureau Chief Jim Saunders can be reached at 850-228-0963 or by e-mail at jim.saunders@healthnewsflorida.org.