The nurses who received fraudulent degrees from now-closed accredited nursing schools in Southern Florida are waking up to a brutal reality. The scheme involved the selling of 7,600 fake nursing degrees to individuals looking to become licensed nurses even though they had never been to nursing school. Now federal officials are asking anyone who used these fake diplomas to obtain nursing licenses under false pretenses to give their licenses back.
Twenty-two individuals were asked to surrender their license in Georgia. The individuals who participated in the scheme paid anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 for a fake nursing degree and transcripts.
Federal prosecutors say 37% of the aspiring nurses who purchased the degrees to get around having to do the coursework required to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination passed the test. A “significant number” went on to gain licensure and secure employment at U.S. healthcare facilities, Omar Pérez Aybar, special agent in charge of the Miami region of HHS’ Office of Inspector General, told the New York Times.
The Georgia State Nurse Board sent letters to the nurses in question on Jan. 17 asking them to voluntarily surrender their licenses. But none of them did, according to the official FBI report. The board is now working with federal authorities to obtain evidence that can be used to compel the nurses to surrender their licenses.
Local officials in Georgia confirmed that at least three of the suspected nurses were employed at a veteran’s hospital in Atlanta.
“Within days of learning of this nationwide scheme, we removed three nurses from patient care at the Atlanta VA Medical Center,” VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes told a local news outlet. “Their removal is very unfortunate but patient safety is and must be our primary responsibility at VA.”
Similar investigations are now underway in states across the U.S. as authorities race to prevent anyone with a fake degree from obtaining employment as a nurse.
The Delaware Board of Nursing recently announced it annulled the nursing licenses of 26 individuals with fake degrees. “All of us feel this is egregious,” said Dr. Pamela Zickafoose, the Executive Director of Delaware’s Board of Nursing. However, these individuals have a chance to appeal the decision.
So far, 25 individuals have been charged for their participation in the scheme, which raked in some $100 million in profits, but authorities say they may charge the individuals who purchased the degrees as well.
“These people who went to these Florida schools did not complete the curriculum, the clinical training that is required of all nurses to be eligible to be licensed as a nurse,” said Dr. Zickafoose.