Before the state launched a new computer system to license nurses, the old paper process took six to eight weeks, sometimes less.
Since the Internet-based BreEZe program went online last fall, nursing graduates are waiting up to three months for a test date – and losing jobs because of it.
But unlike some other state information technology snafus caused by glitchy software, this time state officials say state workers are the root problem. They’ve have had trouble switching from a “green-screen” program in use for decades to the $52 million Web-based system installed by New York-based tech firm Accenture PLC.
“We’ve been caught a little short with the change management issue,” said Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the Department of Consumer Affairs, which issues business and professional licenses through 39 boards, commissions and bureaus.
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Heimerich said the employees’ struggle to adapt to the new system is like “changing your golf swing. It’s like muscle memory.”
Delays stemming from the computer switch prompted so many complaints from upset graduates, hospital administrators and nursing schools that Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, has asked a joint legislative audit committee to figure out what has gone wrong.
“My office has been contacted by a number of nursing graduates, professors and hospital administrators who have experienced a great deal of difficulty since the implementation of the new electronic system,” Olsen told the committee in a letter earlier this week.
Consumer Affairs moved 10 licensing and license-renewal programs online in early October, including those for registered nurses, physician assistants, doctors and respiratory care practitioners.
Under the old paper system, licensing applicants mailed in a form and a check to the Board of Registered Nursing. Staff keyed in the information. Once an applicant cleared a background check, the board would authorize the licensing test.
“The board used to say six to eight weeks” from application to test authorization, Heimerich said, “but it was almost always less.”
The new system’s delays don’t affect license renewals, but now the board is telling graduates applying for a nursing licenses with the online BreEZe system that they’ll have to wait 90 days. The state’s struggle to switch to the BreEZe system has coincided with peak season for nursing license test applications to the state, since most schools graduate students in December. Hospitals and other facilities with nursing grad hiring programs often look to fill openings by February.
Liliana Ichim, a single mother who graduated from Sacramento City College’s nursing program last October, said she had a job lined up and lost it because she didn’t test in time.
“I’m not working. I can’t take my test,” she said. “I don’t know what to do.”
Audrey Berman, dean of nursing at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, said the state’s delay is adding stress to an already stressful situation for nursing grads entering a tightening job market.
The recession kept many experienced nurses from leaving the field and prompted others who had left to return, Berman said. Meanwhile, some hospitals are downsizing. Last month, for example, Sutter Health affiliate Alta Bates Summit Medical Center cut nearly 360 positions, including nursing jobs.
Upset graduates are calling Berman pleading with her to do something about the state’s snafu, she said, “But there’s nothing I can do.”
Heimerich said that Consumer Affairs is asking employers to be patient. Meanwhile the department is “throwing bodies” at the nurse licensing backlog.
“We’re parachuting people in to help with basic tasks,” he said. “We have 10 people from our call center working this weekend to help with routine filing tasks to free up (application) evaluators.”
Heimerich said that the department is responsible for training staff on the BreEZe system, which will eventually replace paper applications for all 39 of its licensing boards, commissions and bureaus by next year.
The $52 million agreement between the state and Accenture, which installed the CalPERS $550 million online system a few years ago, phases in payment to the company as the system successfully expands to eventually cover the 3 million license renewals and 30,000 new license applications the department processes each year.