August 10, 2020
By Mark Flatten

Wildfires drove Rachel Haverkos out of California.

A new law is helping her go to work as an occupational therapist in Arizona.

Haverkos had spent a dozen years in the profession when wildfires in October 2017 raged around her home near Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco. She’d already grown weary of the high cost of living in the area. After the fires, so many of her neighbors had lost their homes and even come close to losing their lives, that she was ready for a new lifestyle.

So in 2018 she moved to Sedona with plans to open her own practice focused on healthy living and preventing the kind of health problems that lead to the need for more traditional rehabilitation services from an occupational therapist. Haverkos said the new law probably shaved a couple of months off the time it took to get her license in Arizona, but it still took longer and was more difficult than it should have been.

“I’m really happy it was there because it already felt like enough hoops and enough of a challenge,” Haverkos said of getting her license under the new law. “If it would have been any harder, I probably would have said ‘You need to leave Arizona. You can’t do this at that point.’ I think if it weren’t for this law I might have left because it’s that difficult to get a license.”
Moving to Arizona was not a given. She looked at her prospects in several states but ultimately was swayed by finding an ideal property in the Sedona area.

Haverkos began researching what it would take to get an Arizona occupational therapist’s license in the summer of 2019. That was before Arizona’s new universal occupational licensing law took effect August 27.

The law allows people licensed for at least a year with no problems in another state to qualify for an equivalent license in Arizona. The intent is to minimize paperwork, testing requirements, and downtime so that people can go to work without being stuck in a bureaucratic bottleneck waiting for their licenses to be approved. If they are qualified to practice in one state, they are qualified to practice in Arizona, the thinking behind the law goes.

On the surface, it would not seem that moving an occupational therapist’s license from state to state should be particularly difficult. Haverkos is certified in the profession by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT), which is basically a national accrediting organization. NBCOT certification is a requirement for licensure as an occupational therapist in all 50 states, so a certified practitioner in one state could be assumed to be qualified to practice in another.

Not so.

Each state sets its own rules and may have different requirements beyond NBCOT certification.

Haverkos learned shortly after she’d started her application process that the new law had taken effect and could be a more streamlined route to licensing. It did help, she said. But it still took about four months to get her license.

The information on the website of the State Board of Occupational Therapy Examiners was confusing and not particularly helpful in explaining the new law, she said. Also, the board seemed understaffed to handle the surge of applications that flooded in after the new law took effect, which likely led to further delays.

She finally got all the paperwork together that the board required to verify her California license and NBCOT certification, and submitted her application in December 2019. It was approved at a board meeting later that month.

Haverkos said the new law is beneficial, but it could be more effective with some changes at the board level.

For instance, applications can only be approved at formal board meetings, which take place once per month. So even a completed application may be delayed by several weeks. When she applied for her license in California, the process took only a few weeks, she said.

“I think the intent is great,” Haverkos said of the Arizona law. But the process needs to be made easier, she added, pointing to the more than four months it took to get a license in Arizona vs. just three weeks in California.

“If they want to encourage people to move to Arizona, this law is the very first step, and then I think they need to make it faster.”

Click here to read more of the story in 1,000+ Arizonans Get Freedom to Work under State’s New Universal Recognition Law.

Mark Flatten is the National Investigative Journalist at the Goldwater Institute.

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