June 18, 2024

Rich Miller: Licenses for nurses, social workers still pending in big state backlog

Back in April, the Executive Director of the American Nurses Association Illinois Susan Swart told my associate Isabel Miller that advanced practice registered nurses are losing their jobs because of ongoing and severe state licensing delays.

Swart said some of those nurses are waiting “a year to 18 months” to get their licenses from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

“The nurses apply for [jobs] because they’re accepting this position and [licensing] is taking so long, they’re losing positions,” Swart said.

And it’s not just nurses having problems getting state licenses.

Licensed Social Workers are not required to take a state exam to obtain their state licenses. They self-report background issues, so they aren’t required to undergo state background checks. Their only real licensing requirement is to show they’ve obtained a master’s degree in Social Work.

And yet, the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation still takes three to four months to process license applications for LSWs, said Kyle Hillman with the Illinois chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. The applications are “the easiest thing to review,” Hillman said. It’s basically a rubber stamp operation.

Needless to say, these delays are completely unacceptable. The General Assembly passed legislation last year to give the IDFPR some breathing room on licensing renewals so it could focus its efforts on first-time licenses. And yet, here we [still] are.

In response to Hillman, an IDFPR spokesperson revealed that the agency has only eight workers processing license applications for 80 health-related professions.

That’s an astoundingly low number of employees for the immense task they’re charged with tackling.

Eight?

For 80 health-related professions?

What the heck?

There are thousands upon untold thousands of people in licensed health-related professions here. No wonder people have to wait months on end for their license approvals.

Up until that response, IDFPR would only say the agency was “under-staffed” when groups like the NASW tried to find out how many employees it had assigned to process applications. Now those groups know, and they’re not happy.

The IDFPR also previously refused to tell the NASW if it was separately processing the no-brainer Licensed Social Workers applications to speed things along. But the agency’s statement admitted the social worker apps were in the big pile along with all the other health-related professions. That makes no sense. Take a few days and get the easy stuff out of the way, for crying out loud.

Gov. JB Pritzker has talked a good game about workforce development. But it does no good to help train and attract nurses, social workers and a host of other much-needed professionals if his licensing agency can’t even figure out how to deal with fruit that is literally sitting on the ground, let alone the low-hanging variety.

The IDFPR spokesperson claimed the Licensed Social Worker processing time is down 60% from eight months ago. But it’s still a ridiculously long wait.

Pritzker’s proposed state budget includes money “for the procurement of a new licensing system,” for IDFPR, but that project is way behind schedule.

Last year, the legislature gave IDFPR three months to build a new computer software system and then have that system up and running in three months. Well, the department is now at its deadline to have the system running, but it hasn’t yet even finished the procurement process to buy the software.

And the governor’s proposed budget would only increase IDFPR’s headcount by a mere 28 people across the department’s four divisions (after significant hiring this fiscal year).

Meanwhile, a February report by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute’s “The Illinois Update” revealed that more than half of Illinois registered nurses are over the age of 55, and a third say they plan to leave the profession within twelve months. As a result, the report claimed that Illinois “is projected to see an RN shortage of 15,000 by 2025.”

Last week, the General Assembly passed a bill (HB5047) that would extend the time period that license-pending practical nurses and license-pending registered nurses could work to six months, up from three, before their employment is terminated. But even that may not be enough time for IDFPR.

According to the governor’s proposed budget, the number of licensed professionals outside of cannabis is expected to be 1.35 million people by the end of next fiscal year. But that relies on the state getting its act together.

• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

Rich Miller

Rich Miller

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.