By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Dawn Crim may have been shown the door, but the state licensing agency she has led for the past 3 1/2 years remains a mess.
A state lawmaker who chairs the Senate’s Licensing Committee says Gov. Tony Evers has run out of excuses for his dysfunctional Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS).
“It’s an ongoing failure,” said Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Tomahawk). “He doesn’t know what he’s doing, and he brings in people that don’t know what they’re doing.”
State Sen. Dale Kooyenga’s office continues to receive regular complaints from professionals fed up with unacceptably long delays.
Last week, the Brookfield lawmaker was forwarded an urgent email from a national healthcare placement firm that connects traveling dental hygienists to dental practices and communities. The firm, Team Placement, like so many licensed providers, has hit a wall with DSPS. In the email, first sent to U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher’s office, Team Placement’s Amelie Cox notes about a dozen traveling hygienists stuck in licensure limbo. Three others have given up because of the insanely long wait.
“Most of our candidates started the application for licensure months ago, successfully passed exams and requirements but have not received their license or even been able to talk to anyone on the licensing board for an update,” Cox wrote.
It’s a common complaint from all manner of professionals — from accountants to welders. Many applicants have waited six months or more, some more than a year, as DSPS slowly sorts through a backlog of filed forms. Some professionals tell Empower Wisconsin they have faced losing job opportunities because of the delays, and employers have reported severe difficulties filling openings.
“We are working hard to keep them engaged and excited, but many are now considering relocating to different States like Minnesota or Texas due to not receiving their license and being able to start practicing in Wisconsin,” Cox wrote.
Dawn Crim, secretary-designee of the licensing agency, earlier this month announced she will be stepping down amid growing criticism. While the agency is modernizing its processes (DSPS shut down for nearly two weeks in late April to change from a paper to electronic files system), the transformation has been painfully slow.
As Empower Wisconsin reported last week, Advanced Practice Social Worker Jessica Glab has been waiting since April — 2021 — for DSPS to process her license application. She says others at the southeast Wisconsin mental health clinic where she works have been waiting well over a year, too.
“DSPS cashes our application check within days of receipt, with no additional updates provided to the (agency’s) portal,” Glab wrote in a letter to lawmakers seeking help. “We attempt to call the DSPS office often, but sit on hold for hours at a time or leave a message/send emails with no response.”
As professionals wait, Wisconsin continues to face a severe worker shortage. Employers statewide are begging for workers.
State Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) chaired the Assembly Regulatory Licensing Reform Committee that in March held a public hearing on DSPS. He’s co-chair of a task force that plans to hold a follow-up hearing on Aug. 2 as it investigates complaints like Glab’s.
Sortwell said the agency’s problems begin and end with an “absentee” governor who has failed to lead.
Felzkowski agrees. The senator says her Insurance, Licensing and Forestry Committee plans to hold a hearing into the dysfunction at DSPS sometime in late September.
She’s most concerned about the lack of urgency from a governor who has allowed a significant percentage of state workers to continue to work remotely.
“All you have to do is go to downtown Madison and you’ll see these agencies are empty,” Felzkowski said. “Why aren’t these people in their offices? Why isn’t there mandatory overtime? How can people go home at 12:30 p.m.?”