MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers’ tenure in office can in large part be defined by the lockout. Not just in his illegal stay-at-home orders that have hurt workers and businesses. But his incompetent agencies, like the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) that has locked out healthcare workers at a time of critical need.
Meet a professional couple that has been caught in a bureaucratic “blackhole.”
The husband, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) and the wife, a family nurse practitioner (FNP). They are both licensed to practice in the state of Missouri, which is in the same nursing compact as Wisconsin.
They want to return to the Badger State.
But the wife, who has six years of experience in her field, has been getting the runaround from DSPS. That’s a common problem at the dysfunctional state licensing agency, as Empower Wisconsin has extensively reported.
She submitted her Advanced Nurse Prescriber application to DSPS on Dec. 23, more than five months ago. After not hearing back, she sent emails to the agency on Jan. 20, on Feb. 28, and again on March 6. She called multiple times, left countless voicemails. She’s been on hold for hours, to no avail. Another common experience at DSPS.
Finally, the professional received an email on March 23 that her credential application was processed and updated. She was directed to log in to the agency’s website to check it. Then the family nurse practitioner was directed to take the Advanced Practice Nurse Prescriber Exam. She did a few days later, and passed it with a perfect score.
And then … everything stopped again.
She sent follow-up emails to DSPS on March 28, April 21 and April 28. She made more phone calls. No one ever answers. The reply she gets is always the same.
“Thank you for contacting the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. We are experiencing high application volumes with pandemic-relating staffing challenges, both of which are causing delays in processing times. All teams are processing applications in the order they were received. We encourage applicants to monitor their application status by visiting our website’s Self-Service feature.”
In a plea for help to state Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers), the husband said he and his wife were just a few weeks from closing on their new home in Wisconsin, where he has been hired as a nurse anesthetist. If his can’t get out of the bureaucratic labyrinth of DSPS and get a job in her field, they won’t be able to afford the new home.
“(My wife) is not alone. There are countless other nurse practitioners and other providers from out-of-state, wishing to move to Wisconsin and work there, but they are all stuck in the same black hole of a loop, unable to move forward,” the husband wrote.
It’s a “completely broken system,” he said.
Many professionals and advocacy organizations agree.
“It’s just yet another example of Gov. Evers’ incompetence at DSPS,” said Sortwell, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Regulatory Licensing Reform which is investigating a crippling backlog of professional license and permit applications at the agency. “Not only has it affected our economy and jobs, but it is having a terrible impact on the state of health when we can’t bring nurses in.”
Sortwell noted that at the same time the Evers administration is making it difficult for medical professionals to get their licenses, the governor has vetoed a bill that would have allowed nurses to do more.
Recently Peter Kallio, who has served as chairman of the Wisconsin Board of Nursing and as a member of the Controlled Substance Board, resigned from both boards to protest Evers’ veto of Senate Bill 394. The measure was aimed at alleviating caregiver shortages and increasing access to quality care by empowering Advance Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) to utilize the full extent of their skillset.
In his resignation letter, Kallio expressed disappointment with the governor and his veto.
“Removing the unnecessary practice barriers from Advanced Practice Nurses would only increase access to quality care for our rural areas. With no changes, this issue will get exponentially worse with time…” he wrote. “…(T)his veto appeared politically motivated to appease a small group…who want to dictate nursing practice…”
It all comes at a time of a severe worker shortage, particularly in the healthcare and mental healthcare fields. The consequences are stark — for Wisconsin’s economy and its healthcare providers.
“If we are unable to move forward with our contracted healthcare positions in Wisconsin, we will be forced to find a different state to live in that is actually willing to support its healthcare workers, and therefore its patients,” the husband said.