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DOJ’s silence on background checks source of ongoing frustration for Pennsylvania nurses

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Peter Hall, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
February 28, 2024

“An acute frustration” is how Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Al Schmidt described his staff’s effort to work with federal officials to allow Pennsylvania nurses to use their licenses in other states.

Since September, nurses licensed in each of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states except New York have been able to work in Pennsylvania if they have obtained a multistate license in their home state. 

And although Pennsylvania passed legislation in 2021 that would allow Pennsylvania licensed nurses to work in other states, a communication breakdown between the Department of State and the FBI remains a barrier to full reciprocity, Schmidt said during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Likewise, Pennsylvania’s participation in the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, which would allow Pennsylvania-licensed physicians to work in other states, has been in limbo since legislation authorizing Pennsylvania to join became law in 2016.

State Rep. Kristin Marcell (R-Bucks) said the partial implementation of the compact, combined with other licensing challenges, has hurt Pennsylvania nurses and nursing school graduates.

“The only thing worse than your department’s inability to get these licensure compacts implemented is partially implementing the compact to give all of the benefits to out-of-state nurses while leaving our Pennsylvania nurses at a disadvantage,” Marcell said.

Rep. Kyle Mullins (D-Lackawanna) said he wants to pass legislation that would provide recognition of dental and dental hygienist licenses across state lines, but that, like the other licensure compacts, would be held up by the impasse with the FBI.

The Interstate Nurse Licensure Compact is an agreement between 41 states and U.S. territories to recognize the licenses of nurses from other states. 

In September, Pennsylvania partially implemented the compact to allow out-of-state nurses to work here in an effort to address a workforce shortage. But Schmidt said Tuesday that the FBI has not granted the Department of State access to its background check fingerprint database, which is necessary for Pennsylvania to fully implement the compact.

Schmidt said the partial implementation of the nursing compact was something that the National Council of State Boards of Nursing allowed Pennsylvania to do, but is not an alternative to fully implementing the compact.

When that could happen is up to the U.S. Department of Justice , Schmidt said

“Our ability to contact the people who are making the ultimate decision of whether we can implement the nursing compact or not is limited,” Schmidt said, adding that the department is required to go through the state police to contact the FBI regarding background checks.

Schmidt said the Department of State last heard from the FBI in November and has also asked members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to contact the DOJ to hurry the process. 

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s office has been in touch with the FBI and the agency has not provided a timeline for approval, a spokesperson said. Casey’s office is looking into other solutions, the spokesperson added, without elaborating.

Noting that Schmidt had given a similarly uncertain assessment on implementing the interstate compacts during his first appearance before the Appropriations Committee in 2023, Marcell asked Schmidt whether she would be asking the same questions next year.

“I hope for your sake, ours, Pennsylvania’s, and its nurses that that will not be the case,” Schmidt said. “But I want to assure you the Department of State has done everything it can to possibly move that along. It has been, again, an acute frustration.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.