State will investigate what went wrong with online nurse licensing system

The state will take a hard look at a database system failure that created a huge backlog of nursing license applications.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved the request by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, to audit the launch of the BreEZe processing system. The California Board of Registered Nursing started using BreEZe in the fall and the system is replacing the computers of other licensing boards under the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Results of the audit are expected by February.

Key components of BreEZe failed in December when thousands of nursing school graduates applied for licenses so they could start to work in health care. It took months for the nursing board to eliminate a backlog of 4,000 license applications, frustrating graduates and resulting in understaffed hospitals.

Olsen withdrew her initial audit request in February until the problems were cleared up and then renewed her request with the legislative committee last month. “I am hopeful the audit will help guide better decision-making when it comes to purchasing and implementing new technology for departments and agencies,” she said.

Olsen said she wants the audit to determine if regulations and best practices were followed in planning and implementing the BreEZe system, and whether there were lapses in project oversight.

She also wants to know how the online system was chosen and if employees were adequately trained to use it. Purchased at a cost of $52 million, the program was supposed to streamline licensing and provide better access to enforcement records.

State government has been plagued by technology failures, such as the Employment Development Department’s bungled upgrade last year that resulted in delayed unemployment payments to 150,000 state residents.

Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for Consumer Affairs, said the department welcomes the review from the Bureau of State Audits. Since the problems were corrected, he said, the BreEZe system has created an easier licensing process for the agencies using it.

The Board of Registered Nursing is reporting a six- to eight-week timeframe for scheduling exams for recent nursing school graduates, compared with more than three months after the system was launched in the fall.

“More are using the online functions and it’s getting people licensed faster if they do,” Heimerich said.

About 1,300 people have applied online for their initial nursing license. The nursing board has received about 9,000 applications for licenses since April 1.

Olsen’s staff said some recent applicants have needed assistance to find out the status of their license requests, but the process is running smoother.