The newly appointed head of California’s nursing board says his ratcheted-up effort to clear a persistent licensing backlog has been successful.
In early August, staff at the Board of Registered Nursing, which is charged with vetting nurses for licensing in California, had not progressed beyond applications from recent graduates filed in March. One month later, the agency appears to have cleared a substantial portion of the backlog, reporting on its website that it is now processing applications that new nurses filed in early August.
The board has also started to chip away at a growing stack of applications from out-of-state nurses seeking to relocate in California.
“We are moving at lightning speed,” Joseph Morris, the board’s new executive officer, said in a recent interview. “It is all hands on deck.”
Morris will have an opportunity to talk about his efforts to address the backlog at a nursing board meeting this week in Newport Beach. But even as nursing advocates applauded incremental progress, they again urged the agency to address fundamental problems with the licensing process.
“Obviously they’re paying attention, and they’ve put more manpower on it for sure, but they haven’t improved processes yet,” said Kathy Harren, regional chief nursing officer for the Catholic health care system Providence Health & Services, Southern California. “It’s good early news, but I’ll be keeping my eye on it.”
Newly trained or relocating nurses who want to practice in California have faced logjams since at least 2014, when ten state licensing boards switched to a new computer system, known as BreEZe, that was intended to improve efficiency but was initially cumbersome and troubled by glitches.
Multiple licensing boards experienced snags in their systems, though most gradually saw processing times improve. At the nursing agency, however, things seemed to get worse.
In 2015, one Johns Hopkins nursing grad resorted to musical parody to vent her frustration with the California system. This year, spring applicants learned they might have to wait as long as six months for their paperwork to clear. Some had to give up desirable job offers because they couldn’t secure a license in time to begin work.
After waiting four months with little progress at the board, Lara Golden, a University of Virginia nursing graduate, gave up a spot in a University of California hospital residency program and applied for a license in another state. Washington State University nursing graduate Angel Li, of Fremont, submitted an application in mid-March but didn’t get her license until late August — too late for a pediatrics job she sought at a Southern California hospital.
“I’m keeping up my positivity as I try to find another RN position,” she said earlier this month.
Morris, a former academic administrator at Mt. San Jacinto College in Menifee and at Victor Valley College in Victorville, took the reins of the nursing board on July 11. During his first weeks on the job, he said, the board redirected staff to help clear the licensing backlog and got additional staff support from its parent agency, the Department of Consumer Affairs.
The nursing board wants to expedite receipt and handling of documents such as transcripts and fingerprints, Morris said. Currently, staff receive “thousands of pieces” of paper in the mail every day, which they have to open, read, transcribe into the BreEZe system and forward to the people handling the applications to which they correspond.
Sometimes the applicants, their schools or the background screening agencies fail to send information on time, he said. As incomplete files stack up, delays accumulate.
Morris said the board is implementing a pilot program with nursing schools to move transcript delivery online. Other types of documents also could move to the cloud if submitting agencies cooperate, he said.
Senior nurses concerned about hiring delays said they have not yet seen much improvement, as qualified nurses still wait too long to get a license under the current system.
“It’s time to fix it, and fix it right, and make it best in class,” said Providence’s Harren.
Morris told California Healthline that his presentation at this week’s nursing board meeting would detail the agency’s recent efforts to train additional staff and share documents digitally.
“We’re going to implement technology and continue to think outside the box and be forward with our thinking,” he said. “We get the universal message. I get it. We’re prepared for this and we’re moving in the right direction.”