Nursing graduates are frustrated by California’s new online licensing system

kcarlson@modbee.comFebruary 16, 2014 

A key component of the state’s new online licensing program doesn’t work, meaning that nursing graduates can’t start their first jobs and hospitals are having trouble hiring nurses.

The BreEZe program, purchased for $52 million for the Department of Consumer Affairs, was supposed to improve the licensing process and access to enforcement records. But it has stalled people who graduated from nursing programs in December.

Many of the 68 graduates from the Modesto Junior College program are waiting up to three months for exam dates and face delays in having records processed by the California Board of Registered Nursing, said Lisa Riggs, program director at MJC.

“There are students who are getting test dates. Some have been tested, but not nearly as quickly as it used to be,” Riggs said. It took about this much time to obtain a license in the 1970s when everything was done on paper, she said.

The nursing board has a backlog of 4,000 applications.

Before the state launched the BreEZe program in October to replace early 1980s “green screen” computers, nursing graduates waited six to eight weeks or less to take exams.

With the licensing roadblocks, some hospitals aren’t able to fill gaps in staffing or meet nurse-to-patient ratios required by state law. Hospital nurses are working overtime and traveling nurses licensed in other states can’t be cleared to take temporary jobs in California, said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank.

Olsen said she first heard about the licensing snags when Doctors Medical Center officials told her it was causing staffing problems at the Modesto hospital. “I’ve even heard that some (short-staffed) hospitals are paying other hospitals to take their patients,” she said.

Olsen has asked the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to find out what’s wrong with the electronic processing systems and wants an audit completed by the end of the year.

“What I am trying to get is full and honest answers about where the pitfalls began,” Olsen said. “We have heard different excuses and reports that they fix one software glitch and then find another one. We also have heard staff does not have the capacity to use the system. We need to get to the bottom of what the issues are.”

There is reason for professions other than nursing to be concerned. Consumer Affairs oversees 37 boards and bureaus, all of which are supposed to use the same online program. Among those waiting to use the BreEZe program are the Dental Board, Pharmacy Board and Contractors State License Board.

The latter board, which handles licensing for thousands of large to small building contractors in the Central Valley, is scheduled to convert to BreEZe in 2015.

Consumer Affairs Spokesman Russ Heimerich said the problem with nurse licensing is a defective module that was designed for graduates to apply online. The module is offline until it is fixed.

That has created a major workload for nursing board employees, who are entering the data from paper applications into the BreEZe program, Heimerich said.

The department is bringing additional staff to help evaluators with the manual work. About 15 people from other sections of Consumer Affairs and outside agencies are being trained to work for three weeks on getting through the paper backlog, the spokesman said.

The purchase agreement for the BreEZe program was crafted so the state has made payments on pieces that work and not paid for things that aren’t working yet, he said.

“We are urging (nursing graduates) to be as patient as they can,” Heimerich said. “We feel for those graduates who have jobs lined up.”

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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