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L.A. County unaware how many temporary healthcare workers lack background checks

The admission comes as supervisors suspend the contract for one of the county's largest temp agencies over the placement of a convicted rapist at a large health clinic.

February 11, 2009|Garrett Therolf

Los Angeles County officials said Tuesday that they do not know how many of the 2,000 temporary workers serving patients at county hospitals and clinics each month are working without a criminal background check.

The acknowledgment came as the county suspended the contract for one of its largest providers of temporary healthcare professionals, a move made because the agency placed a convicted rapist at an East Los Angeles health clinic.

At the same time, John Schunhoff, interim director of the Department of Health Services, said a wide review of the criminal histories of his department's 20,000 staffers, requested late last year by Supervisor Mike Antonovich, is not possible.

"We just don't have the appropriate documentation to conduct a proper look backward," Schunhoff said. "Our ability to do so is very limited."

He said, however, that he has worked to ensure that county policy is applied appropriately in moving forward.

But the return of a man who county officials fired in August -- calling his criminal record incompatible with his job as an X-ray technologist -- has raised serious questions about the department's ability to keep inappropriate personnel off the job.

"This is an issue that aside from being just a gross embarrassment, it was absolutely irresponsible, and John [Schunhoff] does recognize that," County Chief Executive William T Fujioka told county supervisors during a contentious meeting that was recorded by a bank of television cameras.

County health officials announced that they had suspended the contract for Woodland Hills-based Mediscan Staffing Services as they faced withering criticism from the supervisors about the handling of the Gariner Beasley case.

Beasley, who was convicted in 1992 of raping two women under color of authority while working as a Los Angeles police officer, had worked for county hospitals for a decade before he was fired in August.

Supervisors were stunned to learn last week that Beasley had come back to work in a county facility. His new job came to light only after The Times wrote about his case late last month.

Mediscan this week defended placing Beasley at Roybal Comprehensive Health Center, saying a thorough background check that looked back seven years revealed no problems. The company also said he "did not answer truthfully" several questions on his application.

A statement released Monday by Mediscan President Val Serebryany said the company had "followed all policies and procedures" required by its county contract.

But Fujioka said Tuesday that he believes the contractor's decision to look back only seven years was insufficient.

"We have questions regarding whether or not this company complied with the contractual terms," Fujioka told supervisors. "At this point in time, we're not accepting any new staff from this company."

Mediscan officials did not respond to The Times' request for comment. Marvin Mathis, who is representing Beasley in his appeal of his termination in August, has not returned repeated calls for comment.

Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district includes the Roybal clinic where Beasley worked, said Tuesday that she believed that Mediscan also should have asked more questions when Beasley submitted an application for employment a week after he left county service in August. The reason he listed for his departure on his Mediscan application was that he was promoted, Molina said.

"So anyone who read this would say: Why would you leave? Because you got promoted, you left?" Molina asked incredulously.

Safeguards broke down further when Beasley was placed at Roybal but the radiology supervisor did not send him to human resources to undergo a county criminal background check, county officials have said. They acknowledged Beasley also was never issued a security badge, despite policy requiring one. The supervisor has been placed on paid leave, and Schunhoff said she will be disciplined.

Molina said when officers from the Office of Public Safety were asked how Beasley gained access to restricted areas without a badge, they said it was not their responsibility to keep him out.

"They said, 'Hey, it ain't my job. I'm supposed to sit at my security kiosk, and I'll get called when there's a problem like a fight or an issue, then I haul somebody out, or I walk around to create a presence.' That was the response I got," Molina said.

Fujioka said the response was unacceptable and that new responsibilities would be written into the job description for county police officers.

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garrett.therolf@latimes.com

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