States Are Cracking Down On Nurses With Fake Credentials

 In Nurses Weekly

Medical licensing officials in multiple states are scrambling to stop nurses with fraudulent academic credentials from caring for patients, after three Florida schools were accused of selling thousands of bogus diplomas.

New York regulators told 903 nurses in recent weeks to either surrender their licenses or prove they were properly educated. Delaware and Washington state officials meanwhile have yanked dozens of nursing licenses. Texas has even filed administrative charges against 23 nurses.

In some cases, lawyers for the nurses contend states are questioning the credentials of caregivers who earned diplomas legitimately. But a nurses’ union official said there’s agreement in the industry that nurses with fraudulent degrees need to leave.

“The public needs to know that when they’re the most fragile, when they’re sick, when they’re in a hospital bed, that the individual who is at their bedside has gone through the required training,” said Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, president of the American Nurses Association.

Phony diplomas

States are acting in the wake of Operation Nightingale, a federal investigation into what officials say was a wire fraud scheme in which several now-closed Florida nursing schools sold phony nursing diplomas and transcripts from 2016 to 2022. Twenty-five defendants, including school owners and alleged recruiters, have been charged and those cases are pending.

Those who got the fake diplomas were able to take the national nursing board exam and then obtain licenses and jobs in “various states” as registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and vocational nurses (VNs),” a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found last month.

The schools involved in the alleged scheme include Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing and Sacred Heart International Institute. Students enrolled not only from Florida, but also New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Delaware. Many of the students took their licensing exam in New York, where they can sit it multiple times, according to investigators.

The nurses got jobs across the U.S, including at Veterans Affairs medical centers, according to court filings.

The state board actions are taking place as hospitals across the nation try to deal with dramatic staffing shortages. Nurses in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Minnesota have held strikes in recent months, asking for better wages, more co-workers or lighter workloads.

The Washington State Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission rescinded registered nurse licenses of 17 people and the Delaware Board of Nursing annulled 26. The Georgia Board of Nursing asked 22 nurses to voluntarily surrender their licenses.

New York’s Office of the Professions posted on the state education department’s website that it expects some of the 903 licensees who attended the schools “did, in fact, attend required hours and clinicals and are properly licensed.” Those people are being asked to have a qualified nursing program submit verification.

(This story originally appeared in CBS News.)

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