Mike Dunbar: Legislators take on computer problems affecting nurses and hospitals

04/05/2014 12:00 AM

10/17/2014 9:01 AM

It was good to see Assembly members Kristin Olsen and Adam Gray, and Sen. Cathleen Galgiani hosting a town-hall meeting Thursday at Modesto Junior College to talk about the problems with the California Board of Registered Nursing’s computer system. Good to see them not because we missed them, but because we got to see them working together.

In a nutshell, the state’s 390,000 nurses must re-register with the state board every two years on a system called Breeze. But they can’t because it doesn’t work. Worse, the roughly 10,000 new nurses each year can’t register at all and thus can’t be hired for the first time. “This hits 16,000 nurses – a month,” said Olsen.

Hospitals must bring in “traveling” nurses and/or pay overtime, which can cost a bundle – Doctors Medical Center said it lost $750,000 for a one-month delay.

It gets worse. Olsen feels, with some justification, that this follows an all-too-familiar pattern of computer system failures. There was the DMV system, the state payroll system, the Employment Development Department system ... the list goes on. She wants to force a hard look at the cause and reach a solution.

We appreciate that two Democrats (Gray and Galgiani) and a Republican (Olsen) joined forces to bring this problem to the public’s attention. Too often, members of one party point fingers at the other. But that’s not happening here. That Galgiani, Olsen and Gray are working together seems, well, very Valley.

Interestingly, the trio was not the only politicians in town this week. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, dropped by to woo local Democrats and introduce himself as the frontrunner for secretary of state. We brought up the broken computer systems, and he had an interesting take.

“California doesn’t have a stellar IT record,” said the MIT-trained engineer. But it’s not the computers per se. He blamed the state’s procurement system. It takes so long for agencies to design, order and test a system that by the time the system is delivered it is already woefully out of date.

He pointed to the secretary of state’s California Access system, where the public can look for information on candidates and their campaign contributors – if they don’t mind waiting up to 60 days for it to be updated. He wants to make it more searchable, more up-to-the minute, and even provide alerts when candidates updated their information.

“If we can take a picture of a check with a smartphone and deposit it in the bank, there’s got to be a way” to post contribution information within 24 hours, said Padilla. He’s right.

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