Feds Claim Florida Fake Nurse Scheme

The federal authorities say they uncovered a conspiracy to provide would-be nurses with false diplomas and credentials to allow them to take exams and care for patients if they passed the exam despite not earning a nursing degree.

Three now-closed nursing schools in Florida were involved in a scheme that circulated fraudulent credentials of more than 7,600 people, the Justice Department alleges in newly released indictments announced Wednesday.

According to a press release and court documents, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida charged 25 people with involvement in a conspiracy that provided aspiring nurses with an illegal path to become registered nurses or licensed practical/professional nurses.

The defendants include recruiters from Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, New York and Texas, as well as program administrators from the Siena College of Health in Lauderhill, the Palm Beach School of Nursing in West Palm Beach, and the International Institute of the Sacred Heart in Boca Raton. Defendants can face up to 20 years in prison. The court documents do not list attorneys representing the defendants, and Modern Healthcare was unable to determine who they were or how to contact them for comment. The US Attorney’s Office did not respond to requests for this information.

The allegedly false documents were nurses’ tickets to qualify for the National Council of Nursing Examination, which, if they passed, gave them nursing licenses. While the schools are based in Florida, people who didn’t attend nursing school have taken jobs as nurses across the country, according to the Justice Department.

Adults rank nursing as the most trusted profession for the 21st year in a row, according to a Gallup poll last year. Federal officials have expressed concern that the alleged scheme has unfairly tarnished all nurses.

“This is not only a public safety concern, but also damages the reputation of the nurses who actually do the complex clinical and coursework required to obtain professional licenses and employment,” U.S. Attorney Marchenzie Lapointe said in a press release. “Scamming like this undermines public confidence in our healthcare system.”

As a result of the alleged fraud, nurses are caring for patients but have not earned the ethical right to do so, Acting FBI Special Agent Chad Yarbrough said in a press release. “There are more than 7,600 people in the country with fake nurse IDs who potentially play an important role in healthcare by treating patients,” he said.

This investigation is part of an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services called “Operation Nightingale” in which it is cooperating with law enforcement to crack down on cases that affect the safety and quality of healthcare.

“To date, we have not recognized or found any evidence of harm to patients from these individuals potentially providing services to patients,” an OIG spokesperson said in a statement. The OIG is working with state licensing boards to determine the best way to deal with people with fake nursing IDs, the spokesman said.

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