Nurse puts on gloves (David Herraez Calzada via Shutterstock)
(David Herraez Calzada via Shutterstock)

Connecticut’s three-day delay of a deadline for the fingerprinting of nursing home workers hired during the pandemic may not be long enough for potentially hundreds of employees to save their jobs, the president of their union said Thursday.

The Public Health Department announced this week a brief extension of a Tuesday deadline for around 630 health care workers who had not yet reported to state police barracks to have their fingerprints recorded as part of criminal background checks required by state law. 

On Thursday, Rob Baril, president of District 1199 New England, SEIU, said the requirement that nursing home workers eventually comply with fingerprinting was reasonable. He said the Friday deadline was not.

“It’s a problem,” Baril said. “This is a low-wage workforce. Folks making just over $30,000 a year if they’re full-time, in some cases it’s less. People have to work multiple jobs, they’ve got child care responsibilities. Some have to rely on public transportation.”

Connecticut law requires that employees with direct patient contact at certain health care facilities like nursing homes and long term care facilities to pass background checks involving fingerprint records. For more than a year during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ned Lamont waived the requirement through an emergency order designed to reduce spread of the virus. More than 7,500 employees were hired during that time. 

The state set a deadline of July 20, for those newly-hired workers to get fingerprinted or be terminated from their jobs. When July 20 arrived on Tuesday and roughly 630 workers had still yet to fulfil the requirement, the Public Health Department extended it until Friday at 8 p.m. 

The state estimates the fingerprinting appointments take about 10 minutes to complete. According to a Wednesday press release, there were hundreds of appointments available at State Police Barracks A, G, H and I from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and at Troops B, C, D, E, F, K and L on a walk-in basis from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Baril said that extension will likely not be enough for potentially hundreds of workers who need more leeway from the state. 

“It’s not an unreasonable thing that we know who’s taking care of our parents and grandparents but these are workers who have already undergone background checks and a little bit of flexibility would be quite important at this moment when the state already faces a chronic shortage — the most acute shortage of nursing home staff that we have ever seen,” Baril said. “I have serious concerns.”

In a statement, Matt Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, praised the extension and guidance from the state as thoughtfully implemented. He said thousands of nursing home employees and facility operators made a “herculean” effort to meet the aggressive deadline. 

“With the deadline now here, and the scheduling system now open until the end of the week, it appears there will be overwhelming compliance from the nursing home community,” Barrett said. 

Baril was less complimentary of the state and said the approaching Friday deadline represented a “distressing pattern of behavior” from the Lamont administration. 

“This is emblematic of a real disconnect between the governor’s administration and really all essential workers, who, as we know, have done heroic work in keeping us all safe, even during the worst of the pandemic when they had no protective equipment to keep themselves safe,” Baril said.