MADISON, Wisconsin — For months, medical professionals across Wisconsin have been tied down and unable to work while their licenses are being processed.
“I’m ready,” Abby Lochen said. “I’m ready.”
Lochen is just one example. She graduated from nursing school in May. A month later, she spoke with the I-Team and is still waiting for the state Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) to approve her license.
“I don’t know what’s worse,” Luo Chen said. “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, found the right paperwork. However, it took Lochen two months to get his driver’s license. Much longer than she expected.
These types of delays are part of the ongoing backlog of DSPS. Earlier this year, the I-Team highlighted the issue as new technologies are being implemented to make an impact. Now, about five months later, it’s having an impact.
New Technology Impacting DSPS Backlog
“At the end of the day, it’s a service to these people,” said DSPS secretary Dan Hereth. “We’re making sure we’re delivering services that align with the way they like to do business.”
Hereth presented the new software LicensesE to the I-Team.It’s a leap for the 21st centurystone Century of DSPS. Before the new technology was implemented in May, each permit had to be filled out manually and mailed to Madison. LicenseE allows applicants to fill in information online.
As a result, DSPS says they issue licensing decisions within 45 days on average. Compare that to an average of 76 days between 2016 and 2021.
“Although it doesn’t necessarily look like we’re flying to Mars here,” Jerez said. “It must be light years ahead of us.”
Currently, Hereth says they are using LicensesE to complete 76 different types of health occupations, and plan to switch the remaining occupations in the second phase, about 160 occupations.
While technology upgrades can help address the backlog, Jerez said there are unanticipated hurdles. Take Luo Chen’s situation as an example.
Lochen’s application was delayed because her university was delayed in submitting documents to DSPS. Jerez said that underscored what they didn’t know. The level of assistance the applicant received in completing these forms.
“They have teachers and sometimes employers to help them with this work,” Jerez said. “When we implemented the system, it wasn’t just new for applicants. It was also new for employers and educational institutions.”
DSPS cannot provide a specific number of how many licenses have been issued since the implementation of the new software. It only said that “thousands” of health care professionals have applied for and been licensed.
Jerez said he has long been concerned about staffing despite the technological upgrades. Over the past six years, applications in the sector have doubled, from 57,000 in the 2013-2015 biennium to 122,000 in the 2019-2021 biennium. At the same time, the number of employees will decrease from 370 in 2012 to 242 in 2021, a decrease of 35%.
“While technology is a great tool, at the heart of every tool is a person,” Jerez said. “For our department, people still need to see the information. They have to make sure it’s accurate and complies with what the law requires.”
DSPS applied for 72 positions in its most recent budget request, 30 of which were dedicated to certification. It will now be up to Gov. Tony Evers or Tim Michels to include it in next year’s proposed budget. It must then be passed by each chamber of the legislature. This may have to wait until early next summer.
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