MADISON, Wis. — For months, medical professionals across the State of Wisconsin have had their hands tied and unable to work while their licenses are being processed.
“I’m ready,” Abby Lochen said. “I am ready.”
Lochen is just an example. She graduated from nursing school in May. She spoke to the I-Team a month later, still waiting for her license to be approved through the State’s Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS).
“I don’t know what’s worse,” Lochen said. “The nursing school or the waiting game. It’s definitely hard for me to wrap my head around.”
The I-Team contacted DSPS about Lochen’s case and the next day, the appropriate paperwork was figured out. However, it took two months for Lochen to get her license; much longer than she anticipated.
These kinds of delays are part of the ongoing backlog at DSPS. The I-Team highlighted the issue earlier this year as new technology was being implemented to make an impact. Now, some five months later, it’s making an impact.
New technology making impact on DSPS backlogs
“At the end of the day, it’s a service to these folks,” DSPS Secretary Dan Hereth said. “We are making sure the services we provide align with how they like to do business.”
Hereth showed the I-Team the new software, LicensE. It’s a leap into the 21st Century for DSPS. Before the new tech was implemented in May, every single license had to be filled out manually by hand and mailed to Madison. LicensE allows applicants to fill out the information online.
As a result, DSPS says they’re issuing decisions on licenses in 45 days on average. Compare that to the average time, 76 days, between 2016 and 2021.
“While this may not necessarily seem like we’re flying to Mars here,” Hereth said. “It certainly is taking us lightyears in advance of where we were.”
At the present, Hereth says they are using LicensE to fulfill 76 different types of health occupations with plans to switch over the remainder of the occupations, roughly 160 occupations, as part of phase two.
While the tech upgrades are helping with the backlog, Hereth says there have been unanticipated roadblocks. Take Lochen’s situation as an example.
Lochen’s application was delayed because her university was delayed in submitting paperwork to DSPS. Hereth says this highlights a situation they were unaware of; the level of help applicants are receiving in filling out these forms.
“They had their teachers and sometimes employers helping them do that work,” Hereth said. “When we implemented this system, it wasn’t just new for the applicant. It was also new for employers and new for educational institutions.”
DSPS could not provide a concrete number of how many licenses it has issued since implementing the new software. It only says “thousands” of healthcare professionals have applied and been issued a license.
Hereth says, despite the technology upgrades, he has concerns long term about staffing. In the past six years, the department has seen applications double from 57,000 in the 2013-2015 biennium to 122,000 applications in the 2019-2021 biennium. At the same time, employees have dropped by 35 percent from 370 in 2012 to 242 in 2021.
“While technology is a wonderful tool, at the heart of every tool is people,” Hereth said. “For our department, people still have to review the information. They have to make sure it’s accurate and meets the requirements set forth in the law.”
DSPS requested 72 positions in its most recent budget request, with 30 devoted to credentialing alone. It will now be up to the governor, either Tony Evers or Tim Michels, to include it in next year’s proposed budget. Then, it will have to be passed by each house of the legislature. That could take until early next summer.
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