The Illinois Health Care Worker Registry
In Illinois, all unlicensed caregivers who directly handle patients or their records must be listed in the Health Care Worker Registry.
The database, created in 1995, tracks the work histories, certifications and work eligibility of more than 1.3 million employees, including Illinois CNAs.
Health care workers receive an initial Illinois State Police background check upon joining the registry, then another ISP background check any time they take a new job in the field.
If a screen reveals that an applicant has been convicted of any of several dozen disqualifying crimes including assaults, sex crimes and crimes targeting the elderly, or that the applicant has been found guilty of neglect, abuse or theft by an internal investigation of the Illinois Department of Public Health, they cannot be hired.
HCWR employees’ fingerprints are also kept on file by the ISP to be checked constantly against new convictions reported to the agency.
If a disqualifying criminal conviction is ever linked to an employed caregiver’s fingerprints, the ISP alerts the IDPH, which changes the worker’s status in the registry to “work ineligible,” alerting their employer when they conduct their mandatory annual registry check.
At that point, a disqualified worker is either fired immediately, or, depending on the crime, given a chance to seek a waiver after describing the circumstances surrounding their conviction and proving their compliance with all court ordered restitution.
Besides catching employees who commit disqualifying crimes, the HCWR has streamlined and economized hiring for health care employers, said Matt Hartman, executive director of the Illinois Health Care Association.
The work eligibility listings help screen out unhireable candidates early, Hartman said, and allow facilities desperate for staff to provisionally hire work eligible candidates while background checks are being processed.
Meanwhile, the registry’s self-updating allows employers to pay for just one background screen per employee, at the beginning of employment, rather than many over the course of their career, as was previously required, Hartman said.
However, Hartman acknowledged the registry is not perfect.
It can be months from the time an employee becomes work ineligible to the time an employer catches it on the registry, Hartman said, and a misfiled conviction with the state can give a free and clear return on the registry.
“It is very much the exception,” Hartman said. “But we hire so many people in our sector, people can slip through the cracks.”