This story was updated November 23, 2021 at 1 p.m. with comments from the executive director of the Office for Professional Licensure and Certification.
The office that processes licenses for health care workers has made an urgent request to the Executive Council for nine temporary employees to process licenses for traveling health care staff and an expected “onslaught” of new types of licenses for mental health professionals. Once the pandemic hit, the staff got 22,000 applications for emergency licenses and for a few weeks had to process them by hand.
“I would say it’s been stressful,” said Lindsey Courtney, executive director of Office for Professional Licensure and Certification, Tuesday. She made the dire need clear in her request to the Executive Council.
“Without the requested additional full-time positions, (the Office for Professional Licensure) will not be able to meet the needs for immediate licensure,” she wrote, “and our health care facilities will not be able to adequately staff its facilities, leading to delays and disruptions in care.”
The agency already has three of the nine temporary licensing positions, but those positions will expire in December. The office has asked to use unspent money from its budget to cover the nearly $259,000 in temporary salaries. Eight of the nine new employees would process licenses and one would work as a licensing supervisor. The hires would bring the license processing team from 16 to 25 people.
Courtney said the volume of applications has been a challenge, especially because many applications arrive missing information such as transcripts, criminal history checks, or references, which applicants request but don’t always receive in time. Additionally, the office is getting 500 calls a day, primarily from people checking on the status of their application, Courtney said
“I think my staff has done a fantastic job,” she said. It’s just not big enough.
The state’s health care workforce shortage has forced health care agencies to rely on traveling workers, who are not only more expensive than regular employees but also pose a particular challenge for the licensure office. Traveling health care staff arrive with “conditional” licenses that must be immediately converted to “permanent” licenses before they can work.
Additionally, legislation passed last session created new types licenses for social workers and social worker associates, who will be permitted to provide mental health and substance abuse assessment, treatment planning, counseling, and crisis prevention and intervention.
The demand on community mental health services during the pandemic from adults and children has far outpaced the availability of treatment, leaving many waiting in emergency rooms for days, even weeks, for an inpatient bed. Tuesday, there were 37 children and 22 adults awaiting an inpatient mental health treatment bed, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
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