Nursing graduates waiting to get to work say state is “holding us up”

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM)- “What is the hold-up?” That’s the question many recent nursing graduates are asking in Pennsylvania.

Recent nursing students say the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing is dragging its feet on issuing Temporary Practice Permits and authorizing testing and it’s preventing some nurses from starting their careers, in the midst of a nursing shortage.

“Nursing school is hard and you just went through all of that and now you can’t work, all because the State is holding us up,”, a nursing graduate Katie Gregory said.

“There has been a lot of frustration and concerns,” nursing graduate Madison Walker said.

After a nursing student graduates, they must register with the Pa. State Board of Nursing. The board manually reviews all of their information and gives them the authorization to take the state board exam to become registered nurses. Many nursing graduates also apply for a Temporary Practice Permit (TPP), which allows them to start working until they take the exam.

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Recent nursing graduates tell the abc27 Investigators a process that normally takes a few weeks, is taking months.

“We all are in the same boat. We all are messaging each other ‘did you receive it yet?’ I am hearing the struggles of my classmates because some of them can’t work, they’ve quit their jobs, because they have had start dates at the hospital, and those have gotten pushed back,” Gregory said.

“Nobody has been able to get any answers about anything,” Walker said.

Walker graduated from the Nursing BSN, RN program at Wilson College in May. She said she is one of the few in her class that was able to get a TPP. She says her employer, like many others, requires you to take the state board exam within 90 days when working with a TPP. She says it has been 2 months and she is still waiting to be given the authorization to take the test.

“What are they going to do when it gets to that 90 days and nobody has tested? Are they going to keep us around, just keep us under a temporary practice permit, or what are they going to do? That is a really big unknown,” Walker said.

According to the PA Department of State, the State Board of Nursing has received about 5,000 applications since May.

“We are in the busy season because we are dealing with a number of May graduations. That’s a cyclical process every Spring and every Fall,” Kalonji Johnson, Deputy Secretary, Regulatory Programs, PA Department of State said.

The abc27 Investigators asked what steps nursing graduates can take to get some help.

“One of their courses would be that they can call into the board and speak to some of our employees,” said Arion Claggett, Acting Commissioner for the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs.

“When you call, you are on hold for hours,” Gregory said.

“They can submit a ticket,” Claggett said. “We actually have tickets they can submit to ask for a status update on their application.”

“Every time I reach out and create a ticket or email I don’t get a response,” Walker said.

“We do currently have our staff working overtime,” Claggett said.

“Their call line hours are only 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. They are not even there for 8 hours. If you know this is a problem wouldn’t you extend to a normal 8-hour working schedule,” said Gregory’s said.

When the abc27 Investigators called the toll-free helpline on Thursday it was out of service. The Department of State confirmed it was “experiencing an outage with some of its phone lines, and the vendor is working to restore full service”.

Another call placed Friday morning was answered with an automated message stating “there are 66 callers ahead of you”.

“I think that applicants, in terms of their expectations, should expect that the process takes a little longer when we have these busy seasons,” said Deputy Secretary Johnson.

With the clock ticking, some nursing graduates are worried they could lose job opportunities.

“I am really hoping that employers are going to acknowledge the fact that this is a statewide issue, but that is a real concern,” Walker said.

“Something needs to happen because this is important,” Gregory said.

The abc27 Investigators submitted the following questions to the Pa Department of State and received the following responses Friday afternoon:

Q: How many of the estimated 5,000 applications have been processed?   

A: More than 3,900 applications have been processed.

Q: Since May, how many TPPs have been issued and how many test authorizations have been issued? 

A: More than 900 TPPs have been issued. Approximately 3,000 test authorizations have been issued.

Q: How many staff members are working to process the applications? 

A: Currently, we are operating with 20 employees, and are in the process of hiring an additional 10. We have faced challenges recruiting for the positions given the tight labor market.

Q: Department officials stated staff are working overtime. Nurses noted the toll-free help line (which is not working today) is only open for 6 hours. Are those hours going to be extended as part of the over time? 

The toll-free number was down briefly yesterday, but that was quickly resolved. Our help line is open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays. It is important to note that the people answering the phones are the same people manually processing applications. We encourage all applicants to familiarize themselves with the documents needed, and application process, in order to prevent delays in processing.

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