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Governor sees ‘public safety crisis’ in home healthcare program

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday called the state’s inability to stop scores of convicted felons from working in its home healthcare program a “public safety crisis” and demanded that lawmakers take action to address the situation.

The governor made his comments in a letter to legislative leaders after The Times reported that people convicted of such crimes as rape, murder and elder abuse are paid to provide services for some of the most vulnerable Californians in their residences.

Data provided by state officials show that at least 210 workers and applicants with felony convictions flagged by investigators as unsuitable for the In Home Supportive Services program are nonetheless scheduled to resume or begin employment. State and county investigators have not reported many others whose backgrounds include violent crimes because the rules of the program, as interpreted by a judge this year, permit felons to work in the program.

In the letter, the governor said numerous attempts by the administration to “engage” the Legislature on the issue have failed.

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“I am hard pressed to imagine that any member of the Legislature would allow a convicted sex offender to take care of their own grandmother in a nursing home,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “But if the Legislature continues to resist making changes in the law, the Legislature is essentially saying it is OK for that to occur to someone else’s grandmother in their own home.”

Legislative leaders could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon. But officials from the United Domestic Workers Homecare Providers Union, which represents 65,000 home healthcare workers in California, expressed skepticism about the governor’s motives.

“Even if all of these 210 providers reported to the media as allegedly ‘dangerous’ felons had past convictions, that represents .00005% of the 380,000 homecare providers in IHSS,” union executive director Doug Moore said in a statement. “That is hardly a crime wave.”

But officials at SEIU California, which represents more than 300,000 homecare workers, embraced the governor’s call for action.

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“Putting vulnerable adults in harm’s way — either through cutting needed services or by exposing them to dangerous individuals — is unacceptable,” SEIU California President Bill A. Lloyd said in a statement, “and we are committed to working with the Legislature and the administration on any measure to increase their safety, health, and well-being.”

evan.halper@latimes.com


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