Kristin Olsen: Looking for answers to state’s technology failures
03/27/2014 12:00 AM
03/26/2014 4:56 PM
Last month, I requested an audit of the Department of Consumer Affairs because of licensing delays at the Board of Registered Nursing that occurred after a new Internet technology system called BreEZe was implemented in October. During the course of several conversations with the DCA and Assembly member Adam Gray, D-Merced, chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, I decided it would be more prudent to put the audit request on hold so we can get more immediate answers.
That’s why Assembly member Gray and I have scheduled a town hall hearing in Modesto on April 3 so we can ask the DCA, BRN and technology provider Accenture direct questions. That way, all stakeholders will have an opportunity to work together to fix the taxpayer-funded BreEZe system and ensure that it is in full working order soon.
BreEZe was designed to provide consumers and employees more convenient and faster processing for licensing requests and other services and to create continuity between the boards and the DCA’s departments. The first phase of implementation was scheduled just weeks before the graduation date of one of the larger nursing school cohorts of the year – traditionally a very busy time at the Board of Registered Nursing.
Due to system malfunctions, more than 4,000 nursing school graduates were unable to get test dates or licenses – and neither the BRN nor DCA had any clue as to when the problem would be fixed.
Meanwhile, graduates with job offers were forced to decline or delay accepting them because they could not be sure when they would be tested and licensed. Compounded with a major flu epidemic in December, hospitals were in danger of becoming understaffed because graduates could not begin their on-site training. To fulfill mandated nurse-to-patient ratios, full-time nurses were forced to work overtime and some hospitals even had to pay other hospitals to take patients for them. In some instances, hospital administrators vetted traveling nurses from other states, only to learn that due to the BRN backlog they would be unable to get a license to work in California.
The good news is that the DCA now assures me that the backlog is gone. Nevertheless, how well the BRN manages the next cohort of nursing school graduates this coming May and June – roughly 7,000 students – will be the real test.
Technology failures in California government are not new – malfunctions at Covered California, the State Controller’s Office, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Employment Development Department have effectively shut down business for weeks at a time.
Technology enhancements can create more efficient and lower cost government services, but the persistent failures of upgrades are inexcusable.
We need to find the common denominator in these problems so people who rely on government services to do their jobs get the help they need. If the issues are contractual, we need answers from the vendor. If it is miscommunication between vendors and agencies, we need to know how to prevent this breakdown from happening. If the agency is understaffed or undertrained, we need to make sure they are better prepared. We must get answers.
Government departments exist to provide services the Legislature has deemed necessary for people to work in California. It is ridiculous that IT failures have placed more obstacles in people’s way in the name of efficiency. To restore public trust, Californians need to know that the state is finding solutions.
I remain focused on discovering the missing link in all these failed technologies to ensure the state makes successful technology investments in the future. The April 3 hearing should provide more specific information to help guide short and long-term solutions.
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