SACRAMENTO (AP) — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called on state lawmakers Friday to enact legislation that would prevent violent felons from caring for ailing residents in California home health care programs.
Schwarzenegger said in his letter to Senate and Assembly leaders that current rules that keep the department from rejecting caregiver candidates with criminal records represent a grave threat to the safety of home care recipients.
“Choosing to protect these felons over the vulnerable beneficiaries in this program is akin to releasing violent felons from prison and sending them straight into a nursing home on a work-release program,” the governor wrote.
He made his request following a Los Angeles Times report that felons convicted of rape, deadly weapon assault and other violent crimes have been hired by the In Home Supportive Services program to look after ailing residents because a court ruling blocks authorities from weeding out criminals.
Schwarzenegger’s administration had previously launched an effort to purge felons from employment in the program, which is intended to provide a cost-efficient alternative to nurse care. Nearly half of the 400,000 program aides are caring for their own relatives.
But in May, an Alameda County Superior Court judge sided with advocates representing workers caring for relatives or friends and imposed strict limits on who can be barred from the program.
The Los Angeles Times says administrators and law enforcement officials have warned lawmakers, who have the power to change the program’s rules, that predators might exploit the loosened hiring rules. But efforts to fix the problem have been stalled in the Legislature.
Senators Darrell Steinberg and Dennis Hollingsworth and assemblymembers John Perez and Martin Garrick, to whom the governor addressed his letter, did not return calls late Friday afternoon.
There are at least 210 workers and applicants flagged by investigators as unsuitable to work in the program, according to documents examined by the newspaper. Still, they are scheduled to resume or begin employment. And background checks haven’t been done on thousands of current workers.
“We are allowing these people into the homes of vulnerable individuals without supervision,” said John Wagner, director of the state Department of Social Services. “It is dangerous. These are serious convictions.”
State and county investigators have not reported violent crime backgrounds because program rules allow felons to work as home care aides. They can only be disqualified if there’s a history of specific types of child abuse, elder abuse or defrauding of public assistance programs.
Privacy laws prevent warning elderly, infirm and disabled residents that caregivers are felons.
Some 996 convicted felons have been identified as working or seeking jobs in the program since background checks started last year. Some 786 of them were removed or declared ineligible, but the rest are expected to be employed in the program, state Social Services said.
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