SACRAMENTO (AP) – Critical care nurse Meynard Villa was on the verge of losing his family’s $ 150,000 investment in his new retirement home because he could not hire workers while grappling with a flawed government system designed to automate verification of the criminal background.
The California Department of Social Affairs’ new portal is designed to help home and community care providers, foster families, and even nannies and babysitters who apply for approval under the state background check system.
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But only 38% of the nearly 60,000 licensed facilities in California have used the Guardian tool since it went live in January, while the rest find workarounds or remain frustrated. The department had promised that the $ 788,650 portal “will ensure background checks are done faster and more efficiently while making the process easier for applicants and agencies.”
Villa said he lost two clients for his six-bed home in the city of Arcadia, Los Angeles because he couldn’t hire the staff to look after them.
“This problem is really annoying and really disappointing because you are trying to start a business, create jobs and help people at the same time,” said Villa.
The self-service tool is designed to enable employers and employees to enter the identification information of potential employees in order to conduct background checks on crime and child abuse databases. Request exceptions for minor or obsolete issues that shouldn’t preclude their from being discontinued; and add or remove employees associated with their agency.
Instead, frustrated employers said they couldn’t sign up, couldn’t get answers through the Guardian as to why the portal wasn’t working, and couldn’t get help from equally stunned government officials. Employees were able to perform separate fingerprint checks, but these could not be linked to the correct employee files.
“When I try to hire someone, I can’t verify that they’re on the system or not,” said Ara Postaldjian, who owns the Redell Pines nursing home in Monrovia, northeast Los Angeles.
He wasn’t able to hire six people until late March because he couldn’t do their background checks through Guardian.
He checked two others the old way, calling the Department of Social Services and reading out their names and Social Security numbers – the kind of practical process the Guardian was supposed to replace. Government officials were able to log into a database to delete these two employees but were unable to give him definitive answers as to whether the other six could be safely hired.
Navigating Guardian is almost a full-time job for a recruiter at the home care provider. Instead, said HR manager Vera Davidson, who works in Pasadena for the Omaha, Nebraska-based national provider.
The Guardian’s communications are “little to nothing,” and government officials are also at a loss, she said. “So if we get an answer to one of our questions, we took care of it ourselves months ago.”
However, turnaround time for completing background checks has dropped from weeks to days, largely due to “things we figured out for ourselves,” Davidson said.
Scott Murray, spokesman for the Department of Social Services, said in a statement that the new portal will quickly process and delete most applications received, while the agency “is actively working with our provider to resolve some early technical issues … so that all applications are in a period can be edited on time. “
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The California Assisted Living Association has improved Guardian since January, said President and CEO Sally Michael.
“Our experience is that problems brought to their attention are resolved in a timely manner,” she said.
That wasn’t Villa’s experience. It took weeks for a senator’s staff to gain access to the portal.
“After investing more than $ 150,000 of my family’s hard-earned money in my business, we run the risk of going bankrupt without ever caring for a resident, solely due to the high level of incompetence and red tape.” , Villa wrote to local, state and federal officials in February.
Desperate, Villa turned to his district director, congresswoman and senator Susan Rubio. Four weeks after contacting Rubio’s office, he received a call from the department and was able to log into the Guardian in mid-March. But he said he still had delays.
It is the latest in a pattern of troubled government IT systems in recent years. During the pandemic, the California Unemployment Service’s database was overwhelmed and there was a data error that overloaded nearly 300,000 coronavirus records and cost the state’s top health authority their jobs last summer.
The auditor said in January that the nearly $ 1 billion, 16-year financial information system project for California missed four consecutive deadlines to standardize the state’s accounting systems amid rising costs.
Democratic MP David Chiu suggests centralizing IT projects under the California Department of Technology to address what he calls “disjointed, duplicate” websites and reporting systems that have “resulted in many confusing and stressful user experiences.”
Applicants can still submit fingerprints separately from the Guardian portal, said Murray, spokesman for the Department of Social Services. Villa said he was never told that.
A naturalized American citizen, Villa came to the United States from the Philippines as a teenager. He said he worked in several nursing homes to graduate from college. In 2013, he graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
He spent the pandemic in coronavirus intensive care at the University of Southern California’s Keck Hospital. But what kept him up at night was the impending collapse of his business, which received his state license in early January.
“It took me seven months to license my only house – seven months. You are bleeding money, you have a day job as a nurse and you have been bleeding money for seven months, ”he said. “And when you finally get a license, you can’t hire staff because there’s no way to check them in the background.”
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