CBS4 Problem Solvers discovers hundreds of counselors, therapists kept from work due to licensing issue

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- More than a thousand counselors and therapists across Indiana were unable to work this week because of a problem with their licenses, CBS4 Problem Solvers has discovered.

According to the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency, or IPLA, nearly one in ten people who applied to renew their license through the Behavioral Health and Human Services Board was affected by the issue. At the beginning of the week, 1,100 licenses were listed as expired, and by Friday the agency had that number down to 350.

All of the licenses, which include mental health counselors, addiction counselors, therapists, and social workers, were due to expire on April 1st. In order to continue practicing, licensees could begin applying for a two-year renewal in December.

The issue has to do with a question IPLA added to its applications last year regarding citizenship status. The renewal form asks for a yes or no answer to two questions: "I am a United States Citizen" and "I am a qualified alien as defined under 8 U.S.C. 1641." Last month, the Governor signed a new law related to those questions, which allows DACA recipients, known as "Dreamers," to continue to be licensed in Indiana.

According to IPLA, people may be misunderstanding the questions and incorrectly marking that they are qualified aliens, sparking the agency to ask for additional documentation to prove citizenship. All licensees affected had to submit birth certificates or passports to be reactivated this week.

An IPLA spokesperson told CBS4 Problem Solvers that the issue affected licensees who applied close to the deadline, but one therapist told us differently. She said that she submitted her renewal in January, but had no idea there was anything wrong until she was told by a supervisor at work on Monday.

"I got notified by administration that I needed to leave work and that my patients for the day were being canceled," the woman, who asked CBS4 Problem Solvers to hide her identity, said.

It took until late Thursday for the woman's license to be reinstated, causing her to cancel a weeks-worth of patients, many of whom are suffering from severe mental illness.

"I’m frustrated with it and I’m wondering what is taking so long and where the urgency is? And if they’re aware of how much of an issue this is on the providers, on their families, on the patients that are being cancelled and not seen," the woman said.

The woman said that she and several colleagues contacted IPLA throughout the week, but were told they had to wait to be processed in the order in which their documents were received. An IPLA spokesperson initially told CBS4 Problem Solvers the issue was not widespread, but after a request to the Governor's Office, the agency sent the numbers and an explanation late Friday afternoon.

"Currently, there are approximately 350 renewal applicants which responded that he or she was a “Qualified Alien” or not a “U.S. Citizen” and must be reviewed before the renewal process can be completed. Our board continues to quickly and efficiently update the renewal application as the correct documentation is sent," the spokesperson said in part via email. "The IPLA included this question on its renewal applications last year. Since that time we have had approximately 46,000 renewals without issue."

The therapist who spoke with CBS4 Problem Solvers said she is relieved her license is now active, but still has questions about what happened.

"It’s not only impacting the therapists that ... devote their lives to providing this care and treatment to clients, but it’s also impacting the clients themselves from accessing and receiving care. It’s disrupting their care," she said.

If you have more information on this issue, or would like CBS4 Problem Solvers to look into a problem for you, contact us at (317) 677-1544 or ProblemSolvers@cbs4indy.com.

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