By HANNAH MEISEL
Capitol News Illinois
As Illinois faces shortages of health care practitioners and mental health professionals, the state agency in charge of licensing for those and more than 100 other industries has struggled to keep up.
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has failed to meet its goals to speed up both initial licensing and renewals in key industries as applications to the agency grew by 15 percent between 2019 and 2022. IDFPR’s director called the situation a “crisis” earlier this fall when testifying before lawmakers at a committee hearing on the issues facing the agency.
Last week, the General Assembly approved a measure to help IDFPR move beyond its antiquated systems and – at least temporarily – assist those awaiting license renewal. The measure cleared the General Assembly unanimously and needs only a signature from the governor to become law.
State Rep. Bob Morgan, D-Deerfield, who sponsored the bill in the House, said with legislative approval, IDFPR would be able to batch-renew licenses for those who’ve been waiting “not days, not weeks, but months – up to six to eight months.”
House Bill 2394 also calls for IDFPR to contract with a technology vendor to build a new computer software system within three months of Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature on the bill, and to have that system up and running three months after that.
In a September hearing, IDFPR Secretary Mario Treto Jr. told lawmakers his agency is hamstrung by 1990s-era technology that doesn’t allow the agency to add new types of licenses to its online system, even as more types of professional licensure have come under the agency’s purview.
As a result, IDFPR has seen “an onslaught of paper applications,” Treto said, contributing to “historic wait times.” A sizeable number of the 104,000 total applications the agency received last year were submitted on paper via snail mail.
Earlier this year, the agency had been in talks with an existing state vendor that’s already under a “master contract,” which would have sped up the often-slow process of contracting with a new company. But in the September hearing, Treto revealed the agency had walked away from those talks once IDFPR leaders realized the vendor wouldn’t have been able to meet the agency’s specific needs.
“And candidly we were quite disappointed with the news,” Treto said.
In that same hearing, leaders of industry groups aired their frustrations with IDFPR’s licensing delays.
Daniel Stasi, a consultant with the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association, noted he’s been the point person for licensing-related issues for 24 years.
“Very little has changed,” Stasi said in September. “The wait is actually longer.”
Illinois State Medical Society executive senior vice president David Porter told lawmakers that the most concerning aspect of IDFPR’s current licensing system is the “lack of transparency” from the agency.
“Applicants tell us that there’s no real way for them to obtain status updates on their applications or renewals, and there’s virtually no chance to be able to connect with someone at the department by phone or email who can provide such updates,” Porter said. “Most frustrating to new applicants is that they are rarely notified when their applicants are deemed to be insufficient or incomplete, which adds days or weeks to when they can expect to obtain a license.”
Treto assured lawmakers he’s been speaking with his counterparts in other states to get ideas about how to improve IDFPR’s systems – and said Illinois isn’t alone in facing licensure issues. But, he said, some states seem to have figured it out. Oklahoma, for example, has reduced its call volume by 95 percent.
Dilpreet Raju contributed.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.