Assisted living communities, nursing homes and home care providers in Minnesota will be required to return to a pre-pandemic background check process Oct. 20 despite concerns by provider advocacy groups that the process will slow the hiring of critically needed workers.

“At a time when more than 20% of the positions in assisted living are unfilled, providers cannot afford delays in onboarding new caregivers,” LeadingAge Minnesota President and CEO Gayle Kvenvold told McKnight’s Senior Living.

Before the coronavirus pandemic began, Minnesota law required some background checks conducted by the state Department of Human Services to include fingerprint-based Federal Bureau of Investigation record checks. To accommodate the hiring of frontline healthcare workers during the pandemic, however, Gov. Tim Walz (D) temporarily modified certain background check processes and waived fingerprinting requirements in April 2020.

In September 2020, when the state announced that it would return to full fingerprint-based background studies that fall, providers advocated for a delay until fingerprinting site access was restored to pre-COVID levels — only 34 sites were open at the time, compared with the typical 85 to 90 sites, according to the senior living organizations. LeadingAge Minnesota, the state partner of the national LeadingAge organization and also of Argentum, and Care Providers of Minnesota, the state affiliate of the American Health Care Association / National Center for Assisted Living, sent letters to DHS and state legislators outlining their concerns about potential bottlenecks.

The state decided to resume fingerprint-based background studies in a phased approach. Licensed and non-licensed assisted living, nursing home and home care providers are among provider types that must use the process for new hires beginning Oct. 20. Adult day providers and some other provider types resumed fingerprint-based studies for new hires on Oct. 6.

Now, Kvenvold said, the state must ensure a seamless and timely transition so that providers have access to as many fingerprinting sites as possible across the state, as well as a smooth transition to a new vendor. On its website, DHS said the decision to make the transition in stages will allow it to more smoothly resume the fully compliant studies for new hires and employers with emergency needs.

Background checks with fingerprints have been standard practice and are considered “essential in helping to ensure safe, quality care in our communities,” Kvenvold said.

“While senior living employers have been conducting thorough background studies throughout the pandemic, fingerprint-based studies allow providers to cast the widest net possible during the hiring process,” she said.

As the fingerprint-based studies resume, new hires will be required to go through the full background check. Workers who received emergency studies can begin resubmissions for fully compliant background checks beginning Dec. 1 and will need to have a fully compliant study by July 2, 2022, to continue working at their communities and facilities.