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Some counties requiring health workers to get flu vaccine

In an effort to prevent health care workers from spreading the flu to patients this winter, county health officials are mandating that medical staff around the Bay Area receive vaccinations or wear a surgical mask on the job.

Health officials say flu vaccination rates among health care workers are dangerously low – 60 percent [PDF] of those working in California hospitals received the vaccine in the 2010-11 flu season, according to the most recent data available from the California Department of Public Health.

Officials hope the requirements will help prevent the spread of the virus to patients most vulnerable to its life-threatening complications, particularly the elderly, whose weakening immune systems may render the flu vaccine less effective.

However, county health officers say they have few resources to enforce the new orders, leaving it up to the discretion of hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis centers and other health care facilities to make sure their staffs are vaccinated.

Nationally, this year’s flu season has started early and may be shaping up to be a bad one, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among those locally requiring vaccination or masks this year are health officials in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and Sonoma counties. Scattered counties around the state are doing the same.

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Seniors at risk of hiring caregivers with criminal pasts

California seniors can unknowingly be put in the hands of caregivers with criminal histories due to shoddy screening and a hole in the state's regulations, according to a report released yesterday by the state Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes.

The report, titled “Caregiver Roulette: California Fails to Screen those who Care for the Elderly at Home,” [PDF] found that California is one of only a few states in the country that doesn’t regulate its in-home care agencies, which provide non-medical support such as bathing, eating, and basic hygiene to the elderly. While day care centers and nursing homes are subject to state oversight, independent caregiver agencies only need a business license to operate.

Many in-home care agencies claim to conduct background checks for new hires but in several cases barely screened applicants, according to the report. The report also found some agencies approved caregivers who they knew had criminal convictions. Of 64 recent criminal cases involving caregivers, 27 percent had previously been convicted of crimes.

“There is a convergence of trends that is leading to an epidemic of abuse, particularly financial abuse, of elderly clients in this industry,” said John Hill, an author of the report and a principal consultant in the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes.

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Nearly all nursing homes employ convicted criminals

More than 90 percent of nursing homes employ at least one person with at least one criminal conviction, and nearly half of facilities have five people on staff with a criminal conviction, according to a report by the federal Health and Human Services Inspector General.

Among those convicted, about 44 percent of employees were found guilty of property crimes such as burglary, shoplifting or writing bad checks. The workers most likely to have convictions were housekeeping, nursing assistant and dietary workers, according to the report [PDF], which was released last week.

The report also found:

  • Among convicted workers, 20 percent had driven under the influence, 16 percent were convicted of drug-related crimes and 13 percent committed crimes against people.
  • Eighty-four percent of convicted employees had their most recent conviction before the start of their current employment.
  • In 15 percent of nursing homes, 10 percent or more of the staff had a criminal conviction.

Report authors say the federal health reform law aims to address the problem of unfit caregivers by creating a national criminal background check database.

Still, the fitness of care workers in homes, nursing homes and small residential facilities has been a hot topic in California.

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