Jeff Fuentes Gleghorn
Hospitals in Pennsylvania are struggling to find enough nurses to fill open positions, a problem that is only made worse by delays affecting nurse licensing. According to the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, 27 percent of registered nurse positions in the state are currently vacant, a 6 percent increase over 2019. For nursing support staff, like a certified nurse assistant, 45 percent of positions are currently vacant, compared to 32 percent in 2019. Hospitals often struggle to employ as many nurses as they would like to, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought shortages to new levels. Joy Peters, chief nursing officer for Allegheny Health Network’s Jefferson Hospital, said staffing levels in almost every department at Jefferson are down 30% to 40% of what they should be.
At the same time, nurses are facing longer wait times than usual when seeking or renewing their licenses. According to a study from NPR, depending on the license you are seeking, wait times have increased as much as 50 percent in Pennsylvania when compared to 2019. In 2021, registered nurses that took their licensing exam had a median wait time of 97 days before receiving their license. For a licensed practicing nurse, that jumped to 111 days, nearly four months of waiting. NPR found that some nurses were waiting six months or longer to receive their license, even when everything was submitted correctly.
From NPR’s data, this makes Pennsylvania the slowest state at processing license applications for licensed practicing nurses, and third slowest for registered nurse applicants. Some people, including Pennsylvania State Senator Lisa Boscola, are calling for major reforms to the process. Senator Boscola, who represents Northampton and Lehigh Counties, said that “There is definitely something wrong with the board. I almost want to abolish the whole Board of Nursing. It’s not working.” Another State Senator, Senator Maria Collett, agrees. “It’s slow, it’s frustrating and it needs retooling,” said Senator Collett, who is a registered nurse herself.