- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is tackling a state nursing shortage by simplifying the licensing process, its director and Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Tuesday.

To do so, HHS director Courtney Phillips said, the agency streamlined the application, improved instructions, added commonly asked questions to its website and is encouraging nursing students to apply for their licenses prior to graduation.

Phillips said nursing leaders and nursing school faculty complained a lengthy and arduous application process was preventing potential nurses from obtaining their licenses. The department found it was taking an average of 73 days to process each application, and only 28 percent of the applications were complete because nurses had difficulty understanding the requirements.

Since the changes were implemented late last year, Phillips says 95 percent of applications now arrive complete, and the department has increased the number it can process from 27 to 50 per week.

The number of nurses is expected to decrease nationwide because older nurses will retire and many states lack sufficient nursing school faculty, said Dr. Liane Connelly, associate dean of University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing. Five years ago, the Nebraska Center for Nursing, a group created by the Legislature to seek ways to reduce the nursing shortage, predicted there would be 3,838 vacant registered nursing positions by 2020.

Phillips said the shortage is especially prominent at the Lincoln Regional Center, where there is a 43 percent vacancy in nursing positions. Phillips said streamlining the process encourages certified nursing assistants and other individuals already in the field to continue seeking training toward licensure.

Ricketts says he will continue to drive process improvement in all government agencies, not just in nursing, noting that wait times for ACCESS Nebraska, the state’s system to help low-income residents apply for and renew public benefits, have also hit an all-time low of 1 minute and 8 seconds.

“I think I was hired to bring my private-sector skills to help make the government run more like a business, to make it more effective, more efficient and to make it more customer-oriented,” he said.

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