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Nursing Nightmare

Posted 02/28/2023 by Ben Hartley

The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Markenzy Lapointe explains the scheme to a news conference. photo courtesy of Daniel Varela

Several schools in South Florida have been discovered selling fake nursing degrees.

It is not often that people lend their trust to strangers. At the very least, most take reassurance in knowing our medical professionals will provide great care. After all, the doctors and nurses who treat the public have gone through years of education and training. However, frighteningly enough, a whopping 7,600 aspiring nurses have been accused of obtaining fraudulent nursing degrees from three schools in South Florida. Out of these frauds, 37% passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NPLEX), allowing them to apply for nursing positions in healthcare facilities across the country. 

Arguably, the most disappointing detail of the entire controversy is that the phony nurses were entirely complicit in acquiring their fake degrees. Since they weren’t deceived, they cannot be considered victims of an unfortunate situation. In fact, all 7,600 aspiring nurses each paid anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000 to obtain their forged nursing degrees and transcripts. However, none of them actually completed any coursework or training at the nursing schools listed on their fraudulent degrees. Regardless, some of the nurses who obtained fake degrees were convincing enough to land themselves jobs in assisted living facilities, veteran affairs, and working with home bound children. These jobs were located in numerous states: Ohio, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, Georgia, Maryland, and Texas.

 So far, 50 nurses in New Jersey and 26 nurses in Delaware affiliated with the scam have had their professional licenses revoked entirely. Officials investigating this case suspect that there are still many nurses who need to be released from the healthcare field. Despite endangering public safety and tainting the reputation of the U.S. healthcare system, those who purchased fake degrees have not been prosecuted with any charges yet. The 25 defendants responsible for operating the wire fraud scheme, however, were charged on January 25 by the Department of Justice, each facing up to 20 years in prison. The group of defendants is composed of individuals who owned and operated the several schools that fostered the scam: Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart International Institute. 

Before being exposed, these criminals, from 2016 to 2021, sold $114 million worth of fake nursing credentials. Fraud is not all that uncommon in South Florida, but hardly ever on this scale. Officials eventually began garnering suspicions when an audit in Florida revealed poor passing rates at the schools involved in the sham. Federal agents then went undercover to the three schools, all of which are conveniently located in strip malls. Those agents, on three separate occasions, were able to successfully purchase fraudulent nursing degrees and transcripts. The acting FBI Special Agent in charge, Chad Yarbrough said, “What is disturbing about this investigation is there are over 7,600 people around the country with fraudulent nursing credentials who are potentially in critical healthcare positions treating patients. Were it not for the diligence and hard work of the investigators on this case, the extent of this fraud may not have been discovered.” Although the FBI’s work is commendable, it is very concerning that the scheme was able to last as long as it did. It would only take a single ill-prepared nurse to end the life of a patient in the healthcare system. However, healthcare fraud of this scale will likely never again occur without the watchful eye of the United States legal system.