License wait times reach crisis levels for healthcare workers 

Licensing agencies were understaffed and used antiquated workflows pre-pandemic. Now, facing an influx of applicants, the delays are affecting healthcare workers' ability to get to work and patients' access to care, NBC News reports. 

Healthcare workers, from Wisconsin nurses to New York psychologists, said they are waiting months more than usual for approval to work. In New Jersey, some social workers have been waiting more than 18 months. NBC News spoke to leaders with nine healthcare professional organizations in three states who said wait times for licenses are worse than they've ever been.

Regardless of position or state, licensing and healthcare leaders say the solution is increased staffing at licensing agencies. 

In Wisconsin, healthcare workers say licensing delays have reached a crisis level. The state's Department of Safety and Professional Services licenses more than 200 professions. It was understaffed and overwhelmed before the pandemic and has since fallen further behind on applications, struggled to upgrade to an electronic processing system and struggled to retain staff, which the Post-Crescent first reported. The Wisconsin Council on Mental Health has sent two letters to their state legislature pleading for increased staffing at the department.

"There is an obvious and immediate solution to this: Add necessary positions and pay market wages to attract new candidates and retain talent," Jennifer Garrett, spokesperson for the Department of Safety and Professional Services, told NBC News. 

At the Wisconsin licensing agency, staffing is so lean that one worker's illness or parental leave curbs productivity. Entry-level salaries start around $17 an hour.

Licensing wait times are an upstream contributor to workforce constraints that public health and healthcare organizations are experiencing and patients' wait times downstream. In New Jersey, for example, social workers are still waiting for licenses they applied for in 2020. 

"We hear from different organizations — whether they be mental health or domestic violence providers — across the board that because they can't get people who are licensed, there are wait times for services that can be three to five months," Jennifer Thompson, executive director of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, told NBC News

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