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Evers’ licensing crisis is one disaster after another

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Despite millions of dollars in federal COVID relief and state funding, Gov. Tony Evers’ dysfunctional Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) is still failing Wisconsin’s licensed workers.

And the mainstream media is finally starting to take notice.

State Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) has been looking into the license crisis at DSPS for months, as chairman of the Assembly Committee on Regulatory Licensing Reform and now as co-chair of the Study Committee on Occupational Licensing. He issued a statement late last week blasting the agency’s incompetence for a license backlog more than a year in the making.

“The governor and his bureaucrats maintain their showing of incompetence when they take more than a year from the time the backlog started (dating to as early as July 2021) to use federal dollars or the $5 million the legislature gave them in the budget to make limited improvements,” Sortwell said. “Even worse, Evers has yet to fill a single staff position out of the nine he created back in February.”

“If he truly cared about the people of Wisconsin, these positions would not be vacant and people could get some answers. But how can Wisconsinites get their licenses, when their ‘leader’ is an absentee governor?”

As Empower Wisconsin has detailed in a series reports, The license backlog has left untold numbers of health care workers, electricians, cosmetologists, you name it, waiting months, some more than a year, for their credentials.

When frustrated professionals waiting for their long-delayed licenses reach out to Evers’ office for help, they get an automatic email — a political screed blaming the Republican-controlled Legislature for Wisconsin’s licensing crisis.

But as Sortwell notes, Evers and his troubled agency have been slow to act when provided the funding they have said they need.

“The legislature was assured by the agency back in March that the professional licensure backlog would improve through the governor’s allocation of federal ARPA dollars into system upgrades and new staff positions,” Sortwell said.

That hasn’t happened. And the delays have made life tougher for the people on the front lines of Wisconsin’s health and mental health care crises.

As Empower Wisconsin reported last week, only 30% of the graduating class of 2022 respiratory therapist had received their licenses earlier this summer. Professionals are at their wit’s end with the long delays and the lack of answers and progress.

“We’re still dealing with COVID, and the fall (peak) season is coming up,” said Alexis Cumber, 22, who has been waiting six months for her respiratory therapist license. “It’s exhausting. I can name a huge hospital, they’re still 10 therapists short. They’re overworking the therapists to cover those hours.” Because she’s not licensed, Cumber is not able to work with the life-support units.

The licensing crisis has become so inescapably bad that even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and AP had to report on it.

The Journal Sentinel detailed the story of nurses at Door County Medical Center waiting for their licenses to be processed. One is an ICU nurse, one will work in the emergency room and the third, officials there say, is a nurse practitioner currently being paid to do tasks well below her level of education and ability while waiting for her application to be processed, the newspaper reported.

“In all three cases, these are experienced nurses from out of state who are simply waiting for their paperwork to go through to begin practicing in Wisconsin,” Brian Stephens, chief executive officer of Door County Medical Center, wrote in a recent letter to Gov. Tony Evers.

DSPS is in the slow-moving process of transitioning from a paper to electronic records system. The agency authorized a blackout period of more than two weeks running from the end of April to mid-May — as many new professionals were graduating with their degrees and applying for licenses.

“Unsurprisingly, the Evers administration continues to fail our prospective healthcare professionals in the state,” Sortwell said. “The legislature is still receiving several contacts from its constituents who are waiting months, even with a new computerized system. And no one can get answers because the agency never answers the phone or responds to emails.”

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