'They should be planted': thousands of people received fake diplomas of nurses, but passed the certification test and started working - ForumDaily
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'They should be planted': thousands of people received fake diplomas of nurses, but passed the certification test and started working

Over 7600 aspiring nurses have scammed the healthcare system. They received fake diplomas from three nursing schools in South Florida, which medical professionals say could undermine the profession's credibility. Yahoo News.

Photo: IStock

About 2600 of these people used fake diplomas to take the Nursing Council Certification Exam (NCLEX) and passed it. This gave them access to jobs in healthcare facilities across the country. Diplomas were awarded by Siena College in Broward County, Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County, and International Institute of the Sacred Heart in Broward County - they are all currently closed. Although schools in Florida were involved in the scheme, it affected several states.

“I'm in South Florida. This is a breeding ground for fraud, be it identity fraud, healthcare fraud. We have never seen anything like this before,” said Fernando Porras, assistant special agent in charge. Porras is leading an investigation for the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The investigation, known as Operation Nightingale, found that the scam began in 2016 and ended in 2021, raising over $100 million.

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“We sent undercover agents several times to buy these degrees. And they were able to buy degrees without having a medical degree or without taking any course — they just paid the amount of $17,” Porras explained.

On January 25, Florida's Southern District Attorney's Office indicted 25 individuals in Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Florida who allegedly worked as recruiters for an illegal licensing scheme.

Each of the 25 defendants faces up to 20 years in prison for alleged involvement in an electronic communications scam that allowed thousands of people to obtain fake nursing diplomas.

According to Porras, the Florida schools that issued fake diplomas were once "legitimate schools."

“They were certified by the state of Florida to provide nursing degrees,” he said. “Their work was getting worse and worse. And so they were put on probation. And shortly after that, their license was revoked. So once their certificates were revoked and they could no longer issue any diplomas, they began issuing diplomas retroactively. So, for example, the license was canceled in 2019, then they issued a certificate and diploma as if the student had attended training from 2016 to 2017.”

Now government agencies across the country have revoked the licenses of dozens of nurses who practiced with fake diplomas.

In November, Delaware revoked 26 nurses' licenses associated with the scheme, but officials say there could be more nurses who need to be fired.

"We've heard reports of others being sent to the Board of Nursing to investigate attendance at these three South Florida schools," said Christopher Otto, executive director of the Delaware Nursing Association.

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And some of the people who obtained illegal registered nurse (RN) diplomas were already licensed practical nurses (LPN).

“For these people, their RN or registered nursing license is revoked. But if they have met the license requirements to operate as an LPN, that LPN license remains active in most cases,” Otto said.

In Georgia, 22 working nurses received fake licenses and diplomas. According to local Atlanta broadcaster WSB-TV, on Jan. 17, the Georgia Board of Nursing sent out letters to nurses asking them to turn in fake nursing licenses, but they haven't done so yet.

Brenda Hage, director of nursing at the University of Florida Gulf Coast, which is about two hours from South Florida's boarding schools, said the scheme is offensive to real nurses.

“I think I’m more alarmed than surprised,” Hage said. “We work so hard as nurses to earn trust and to be seen as ethical by the patients we care for.” When someone tries to game the system or do something illegal like this, it's really insulting and disturbing to all nurses."

But Hage said her biggest concern is people who take the National Council of Nursing Exam (NCLEX) without the proper education or training.

“This gives the public the misconception that somehow it is very easy to pass the NCLEX exam to become a licensed registered nurse,” Hage said.

The NCLEX exam is rigorous and typically takes up to five hours to complete, Hage said.

"It's not something you can get around," said Jennifer Kennedy, president of the American Nurses Association.

But Kennedy says she's not surprised a similar scandal has taken place in the healthcare industry because some states have cut their regulatory requirements.

“So we hope that through this scandal, we can use it and restore some of the power that legislatures have taken away from nursing councils across the country,” Kennedy said.

A recent Gallup poll found that more than 79% of US adults believe nursing has very high integrity and ethical standards compared to more than a dozen other professions.

“We need to reassure the public that this has been sorted out. We'll be monitoring the damage. We will do everything possible so that this does not happen again, ”Otto said.

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So far, there have been no reports of nurses with fake credentials harming patients, and none of these nurses have been charged.

“Just because an error or adverse outcome was not reported does not mean there were no failures,” Hage said. “I think they should be held accountable.” The fact that they knew it was a fraudulent practice and they were committing fraud makes them guilty."

Health officials say the multi-year scheme is unprecedented and could affect anyone who visits the health facility.

“This case has the potential to affect any of us — we go to emergency rooms, we have loved ones in hospice, in skilled care facilities, who could potentially get help from someone who is not properly trained,” Porras said.

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