Thousands of nurses wait for California to clear backlogged licensure applications
Thousands of California nursing school graduates are in limbo right now, waiting to find out when they can take their licensure examinations.
The California Board of Registered Nursing blames the delay in processing applications to a new software implementation, which wasn’t quite ready when a wave of December nursing school graduates applied for testing.
The problem is that the previous paper system was replaced by a new computerized system that collects more data. Once its fully operational, applicants will input their own data and pay for their applications on the state website. But for now, state workers are still processing applications manually, only they have to input a lot more information and it’s created a backlog of applications. Worse yet, officials aren’t sure exactly when the problem will be resolved.
“It’s creating quite a backlog, and people can’t afford to be the guinea pigs when we’re rolling out these new systems,” says Rep. Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto), who has requested the state to look into the backlog.
The new $52 million software system was created by an outside vendor to replace two legacy databases used by the state for licensing and enforcement since the 1980s, says Russ Heimerich, deputy director of communications for the California Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the Board of Registered Nursing. Those older databases were “falling apart” and suffering data integrity issues, Heimerich says, so the new system was ordered as a replacement. He says the new system will provide better integration among all the 37 boards and bureaus in the Department of Consumer Affairs, so professional licenses can be better cross-checked and enforced. Under the new system, it will be easier to find any licenses obtained by an individual by name rather than searching for a name with each individual bureau.
Thirty-seven of the 39 bureaus under the Department of Consumer Affairs will use the new system, and be brought online in three waves, Heimerich explains. The Board of Nursing and nine other boards were included in the first wave, brought on in October 2013. The rest of the bureaus will be phased in through 2016 in two more waves, he says.
“Each board has a certain flexibility to personalize the database for their needs,” says Heimerich. In this case, the nursing board wanted its applicants to be able to apply for and pay for licensure online. However, by the time the system was ready to go live, that module was “not as polished” as the board would have liked, so they decided to delay to online payment and application feature. The problem, Heimerich says, is that the system requires additional data to be collected from applicants and entered into the new database. If the online application system was already in place, each applicant would input the additional data themselves. But since it’s not, it’s taking staff at the Board of Nursing substantially more time to process the lengthier applications.
“They’ve started to fall behind, so there is a backlog right now, we estimate, of 3,500 to 4,000 applicants,” Heimerich says.