Nursing students

Nursing students and instructors await a shift change in the intensive care unit at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica. California's registered nursing board has eliminated a backlog in licensing paperwork for approximately 4,000 recent nursing graduates, state officials have reported. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

California's registered nursing board has eliminated a backlog in licensing paperwork for approximately 4,000 recent nursing graduates, state officials have reported.

But Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto), who helped organize a town hall hearing on the delays Thursday in Modesto, said she remains concerned about license applications for 7,000 students set to complete their training in May and June.

"Will it all start happening again?" Olsen said Friday in an interview. "It's unclear whether the breakdowns in the system have been fixed completely."

The problems began in early October, when the state's Board of Registered Nursing and nine other state agencies started using a new $52-million online licensing and enforcement system called BreEZE.

The Times reported in February that the upgrade, intended to improve efficiency for 37 licensing boards and bureaus in the state, didn't initially  function as planned. Nursing board employees had to spend large amounts of time typing in applicant data from paper forms before they could determine whether graduates were eligible to take licensing exams.  Some new nurses were unable to take exams, get their licenses and begin jobs they had already accepted.

In recent months, the board has "managed to chew through the backlog," said Department of Consumer Affairs spokesman Russ Heimerich. He said the department now is able to clear applicants for testing in six to eight weeks, as promised on the nursing board's website.  Additionally, he said, in coming days applicants should be able to apply for their licenses online, saving hours of data input for state workers.

Heimerich said he thought the agency would be able to process incoming applications from spring graduates without unusual delays. But Olsen cited  testimony from nursing students present at Thursday's town hall, who said problems continue, including unreturned phone calls and lost application documents.

"There are still an number of applications that have not been processed," Olsen said.

"The problems seem to be larger than the challenges with implementing BreEZe," Olsen added. "They seem to be systemic in nature.  There seem to be some management challenges relating to basic customer service and basic organizational skills."

ALSO:

LAPD in mourning after 3 officers killed in 2 months

Donald Sterling will fight to keep Clippers, Garcetti predicts

Red Cross assisting homeless residents displaced after shelter fire

eryn.brown@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATerynbrown