Safety

Is it safe to hire ex-cons in healthcare?

Hospital Safety Insider, April 27, 2017

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Some states have passed laws to keep people with criminal convictions out of jobs in clinical settings, citing safety concerns. But more and more healthcare employers these days are hiring ex-cons into entry-level positions.

Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore has been willing to hire former offenders since the late 1990s, when economic prosperity made certain positions particularly difficult to fill, as The Pew Charitable Trusts reported.

“That’s also around the time that we started doing background checks and we started to find, ‘Gee, there’s lots of people that have backgrounds. And if we’re going to exclude all of them – then how are we ever going to staff the hospital?’” the health system’s senior director for central recruitment services, Michele Sedney, told Pew.

Collie Thomas, a 51-year-old orderly at Johns Hopkins, spent a decade in prison after a fight with her boyfriend resulted in his death. Thomas, as she tells the story, had grabbed a knife to scare the man away, when he charged toward her during the scuffle. The knife punctured his lung.

“I never thought the man was going to die,” Thomas told Pew.

After her release a few years ago, Thomas took part in a nonprofit reentry program called Turnaround Tuesday. Participants meet in church basements, where they learn conflict-management techniques, how to set appropriate boundaries, and how to take care of people – including themselves. The program is known for its ability to connect ex-cons with employers.

A five-year study conducted by Johns Hopkins found that the former offenders it hired were more likely than non-offenders to stay in their jobs longer than three years. Similarly, a Northwestern University study published last year found that workers with criminal pasts were no more likely to be fired than were their coworkers with clean records.

These findings support the so-called “Ban the Box” movement, as well as a push by the federal government to encourage employers to consider hiring convicts. But the findings do not wipe away all legitimate worry that hiring ex-cons could prove dangerous. Failing to fully investigate a worker’s criminal history or hiring someone who reoffends against a patient could open a hospital to liability and public backlash.



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