Roughly 7,000 healthcare workers across the state who were hired during the pandemic must be terminated if they aren't fingerprinted for state-mandated background checks before July 20, the Connecticut Department of Public Health is warning in urgent memos being sent to nursing homes, home health agencies, chronic disease hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
The nursing home industry, however, is hoping for an extension considering the staffing shortages it and health-related industries are experiencing.
July 20 marks the date when Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont's public health and civil preparedness emergencies are currently scheduled to expire. The fingerprint checks were suspended last year under one of Lamont's executive orders to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
"Seven thousand workers who have not been fingerprinted by July 20, 2021 will not be eligible for continued employment in direct-care positions unless they are fingerprinted before the executive order expires," said Christopher Boyle, a spokesman for the public health agency, in a statement. Those fingerprinted on or before July 20, but are still awaiting their results, can be hired under "provisional status."
"The statutory requirement for a background check is not new and is an important measure to ensure the health and safety of nursing home residents. We strongly encourage employers and their 7,000 workers to book appointments now," Boyle said. The 7,000 include those hired from March 23, 2020 through May 19, 2021.
Healthcare facilities, especially nursing homes and home healthcare agencies, have been struggling to fill job openings and say they cannot afford to lose staff. There's also concern from the nursing home industry about whether the Connecticut State Police, which is responsible for conducting fingerprint-based criminal history records checks for direct care employees at long-term care facilities, has the capacity to address the large backlog that developed during the pandemic in time for the state's looming deadline.
"We support the plan and are working collaboratively with DPH, but the ambitious schedule, as we're nearing the deadline, it's becoming increasingly apparent that the state police barracks can't deliver the capacity to address the backlog," said Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities and the Connecticut Center for Assisted Living. Barrett, who has heard of appointments being filled up at some barracks, said he hopes state public health officials will extend the deadline until September, which he said is still an ambitious goal.
"There is a full-blown background check going on. The only piece that is not going on is the fingerprinting piece, and we support doing that and we support an ambitious plan and we believe in getting it done by September," he said, explaining that terminating thousands of workers later this month would be "severe" for both the employees and their employers.
"The consequences are severe and harsh, so it's much more reasonable to extend the deadline than to allow that to happen, especially given the ongoing and chronic staffing shortages that nursing homes continue to experience in Connecticut," he said. Many facilities in the state, according to Barrett, have recently stopped taking new admissions because they don't have enough staff. He could not provide a specific number.
Home health agencies are reporting similar challenges. On Thursday, Coco Sellman, founder and CEO of Allume Home Care in Watertown, which specializes in helping medically fragile children and adults, said there are currently dozens of children stuck waiting in hospitals because they require continuous skilled nursing to leave and there aren't enough clinicians to provide the needed home care services.
Boyle said there are currently no plans to extend the deadline, noting that DPH is monitoring appointments daily.
"While some barracks are booked, other barracks have plenty of open appointments," he said. "We urge people to take advantage of available appointments."
DPH and the State Police implemented a special fingerprinting schedule in June for the 7,000 workers and have been "messaging heavily" to long-term care employers and the affected staff about the need to complete the fingerprinting before July 20, he said.
"We have been advertising the availability of appointments, including instructions for making appointments, and we have held several webinars to answer questions," Boyle said. "Appointments are available daily in 10-minute increments at several State Police barracks throughout the state."