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Nursing board vacancies haunt Department of State

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(The Center Square) — Though election-related questions usually dominate recent budget hearings with the Department of State, problems within nursing licensure are serious enough to garner attention.

As Secretary Al Schmidt detailed to senators on Wednesday, the department is short-handed and approving licenses suffers as a result.

“The nursing board has 42 staff positions. Nearly 20 are vacant,” Schmidt said. “The vacancies in that board have been a long-term challenge.”

The real-world effect is that nurses in Pennsylvania must wait months longer than in other states to start working. In 2023, LPNs waited 126 days — but LPNs in dozens of other states only waited 50 days.

Federal hiccups, too, have made improving the situation more difficult.

“It is one of the boards — by far the biggest — that we’ve struggled to fill positions for because of the requirements for those positions and the pay for those positions,” he said.

One improvement by the state has been trying to ensure that workers won’t spend their days simply answering phone calls about application statuses, Schmidt noted. The department is making the application status more transparent so would-be nurses can check their status online.

“Another change to that workflow that has improved productivity is we’ve made it so our clerks are only reviewing petitions that are complete,” Schmidt said. “Before, clerks would go through applications essentially chronologically … now, our clerks are reviewing applications that are only 100% complete, so that has improved turnaround time.”

When an application isn’t completed, a notification gets sent so a person knows what the problem is.

“As of today in the nurse board, we have 2,000 applications in the system that have been submitted. But only 100 of those applications are complete,” said Arion Claggett, acting commissioner of the Bureau of Professional & Occupational Affairs. “So that will help us greatly.”