Duluth Bethel fingerprinting 03-12-2017

“How do I know this place is safe?”

It’s a natural question asked by friends and relatives when their loved ones enter nursing homes, long-term care facilities and drug- and alcoholism treatments centers such as the Duluth Bethel.

There are many ways the State of Minnesota and care centers like ours work to ensure the safety and protection of vulnerable adults, defined in Minnesota as those susceptible to maltreatment defined as abuse, neglect or financial exploitation One of the most important approaches began two years ago, when the state required additional measures including electronic fingerprinting to exclude those with state criminal records.

But fingerprinting every prospective employee in our community seeking to work with vulnerable adults sometimes has resulted in backups that have slowed hiring and caused staffing gaps at care centers. This has been largely a result of limited places authorized or willing to do the fingerprinting.

At the Duluth Bethel, we recently stepped up to be part of the solution. We got into the fingerprinting business, acquiring an electronic machine that takes prints for those applying for jobs locally as well as our own employees who require background checks by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

For the Bethel, this makes sense. We’re in the business of caring for people who need help at vulnerable points in their lives. We understand the need to have only top-notch people employed at our center. As part of the human services network locally for 143 years, we also want to be part of the solution for all agencies working to help those in need.

Because of our work with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Bethel has done ink fingerprinting before for some members of our own staff. Local law-enforcement centers also have offered this service to other agencies. But in our region, it’s sometimes been difficult to find a central location that is willing to do this work for other agencies and that also is able to provide services at hours that are accessible to those who need to be checked.

That’s why we began discussions with the Department of Human Services about becoming part of the solution. Earlier this year, we were approved as an electronic fingerprinting center. We received a 3M Cogent Inc. machine and have been taking and processing electronic prints for our prospective employees and others for several weeks.

It’s certainly convenient for us, but also for others. The Bethel is right downtown, at 23 Mesaba Ave., on a bus line and near main streets as well as Interstate Highway 35. We’re also staffed 24 hours a day, so individuals who can’t make it to another fingerprinting site during regular working hours can make special arrangements with us to have their prints taken at times that work for them.

In just a few weeks working with the machine, our employees have become proficient in taking electronic fingerprints. It’s much easier than the old ink-and-paper way. In the old days, even when you thought you had taken a good set of ink-and-paper prints, you often learned weeks later that they were smudged and unreadable, forcing you and the applicant to start all over again.

With the new machine, we learn almost immediately if the prints are readable. We then send them off electronically to the state, allowing applicants and their prospective employers to learn more quickly whether the job seekers are approved to start work with vulnerable adults.

There’s a $9 application fee to submit prints to the state. As a taker of prints, we get a small portion of that back for our services. But our intention was never to make money on fingerprinting. Having another human services center in our community working as part of the background check system helps our whole community.

And it certainly helps the vulnerable adults that need and deserve the best care.

Dennis Cummings is Executive Director of the Duluth Bethel, a nonprofit organization that provides chemical dependency recovery and community-based corrections programs to hundreds of men and women annually. This column originally ran in the March 12 edition of the Duluth Budgeteer News. Look for future columns every month in the Budgeteer.