Kendall Warden, Class of 2024, Belmont Law
Several southern nursing schools are under fire after recent reports disclosed that more than 7,600 fake nursing degrees and transcripts were sold to “aspiring nurses.” During the five-year scheme, purchasers spent a total of $114 million dollars on the fraudulent degrees and transcripts. The average cost of such degrees amounted between $10,000 and $15,000. These fake nursing degrees issued by actual, real nursing schools qualified purchasers to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX). Roughly 2,400 fraudulent degree purchasers successfully passed the NCLEX and were able to obtain employment as registered nurses. These nurses are likely to lose their nursing licenses.
The Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General have initiated an investigation they dubbed “Operation Nightingale.” Currently, twenty-five individuals affiliated with three Florida nursing schools have been charged in connection to this investigation. The individuals involved face up to twenty years in prison for their participation in the fraud scheme. While the purchases who managed to pass the NCLEX and obtain licensure will likely lose their licenses, it is unlikely they will be federally prosecuted.
However, state licensing boards are calling for action against the nurses who fraudulently obtained their licensure. Licensure annulment and revocation could be the worst punishment received by diploma purchasers in this fraud scheme – criminal charges are not currently being pursued against purchasers. Specifically, Delaware, Georgia, and Texas are initiating disciplinary actions against such individuals. The Delaware Board of Nursing reportedly annulled twenty-six individuals’ nursing licenses. Georgia’s Board of Nursing directly asked twenty-two nurses who obtained their licensure fraudulently to come forward and surrender their licenses voluntarily, but many instead retained counsel to attempt to fight the possibility of licensure revocation. The VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes told WSB-TV that three of the nurses worked at a Veterans Affairs hospital and have since been removed from the medical center.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Markenzy Lapointe, expressed the overarching public policy concern, besides an obvious public safety issue, that this situation “tarnishes the reputation of nurses who actually complete the demanding clinical and course work required to obtain their professional licenses and employment.” She also raised concern for the erosion of public trust in the health care system because of fraud schemes like this one.
It will be interesting to watch this investigation develop, as it is unclear if or in what manner, a route to licensure will be provided to those purchasers who wish to pursue a valid nursing degree.
Sources: – https://www.americanbar.org/groups/health_law/section-news/2023/february/nursing-boards-seek-action-in-response-to-doj-charges-in-fraudulent-diploma-scheme/ – https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl/pr/fraudulent-nursing-diploma-scheme-leads-federal-charges-against-25-defendants – https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/nursing/georgia-asks-22-nurses-to-surrender-licenses-amid-degree-scheme-probe?utm_campaign=bhr&utm_source=website&utm_content=related – https://www.americanbar.org/groups/health_law/section-news/2023/february/people-in-florida-charged-with-fake-nursing-diploma-scheme/ – https://www.npr.org/2023/01/27/1152034256/fake-nursing-diplomas-scheme-arrests-florida