2,800 Fraudulent Nurses May Be Working in the U.S. After Buying Fake Diplomas in Massive Scheme
Officials discovered more than 7,600 fake diplomas and transcripts.
Many state medical systems that have been struggling with a shortage of nurses for years now may another crisis on their hands. Thousands of people across the country may be working as nurses and simply shouldn't be: they don't have the credentials. Instead, they bought fake nursing diplomas in a massive scheme that authorities are urgently trying to break up.
Last week, the Department of Justice announced it was charging 25 people in five states associated with the alleged scheme. Their investigation, code-named Operation Nightingale, discovered that 25 people sold more than 7,600 fake diplomas and transcripts between 2016 and 2021, earning more than $100 million. Officials believe more than 2,800 people may be fraudulently working as nurses today. Read on to find out more about the case.
Fake Credentials Came From Three Schools, According to Officials
Fraudsters sold fake diplomas and transcripts for between $10,000 and $15,000, the Department of Justice says. Three accredited Florida-based nursing schools, including Siena College, Sacred Heart International Institute, and Palm Beach School of Nursing, reportedly issued bogus credentials. Those three schools have been closed, and the 25 people responsible for the diploma mill each face up to 20 years in jail.
More Than 2,800 May Be Fraudulently Working As Nurses, Authorities Say
"Health care fraud is nothing new to South Florida, as many scammers see this as a way to earn easy, though illegal, money," acting Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough, FBI Miami, said in a statement. "What is disturbing about this investigation is that there are over 7,600 people around the country with fraudulent nursing credentials who are potentially in critical health care roles treating patients."
With a fake diploma and transcript, someone without credentials could sit for the national nursing exam. Those who pass earn a nursing license, which confers the ability to work in healthcare settings. Authorities said that about 37% of the 7,600 people with alleged fake diplomas—more than 2,800 people—passed the exam and may be working as nurses.
Nurses Removed From Atlanta VA
Federal authorities' next move is to track down the fraudulent nurses and have their licenses nullified. According to court documents, some of those nurses were working at Veterans Affairs hospitals in Maryland and New York, a hospital in Georgia, and a nursing facility in Ohio, among other places.
This week, NewsNation reported that three nurses were removed from a Veterans Affairs hospital in Atlanta in connection with the scheme. Department of Veterans Affairs press secretary Terrence Hayes said the nurses were removed "within days" of the VA learning about the fraud. "Their removal is very unfortunate but patient safety is and must be our primary responsibility at VA," Hayes said.
"We Are Going to Proceed Posthaste"
Georgia Secretary of State's Office identified 22 people in the state who received fake diplomas, and 17 of those who obtained their license, NewsNation reported. Those 17 have been asked to turn in the licenses, said Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger."We are going to proceed posthaste and make sure they're brought to justice and penalties are paid," Raffensperger said. "They will not be practicing nursing here in the state of Georgia."
"Very Sophisticated Scheme," Experience Nurse Said
On Monday, KING reported that Washington State's Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission had identified 150 nursing applicants using credentials from federally investigated Florida-based schools. "The nursing commission is there to protect the public so we took this very seriously," said Paula Meyer, the commission's executive director. She added that 40 years in the nursing profession had not prepared her for the extent of the fraud. "We found that this was a very sophisticated scheme for fraudulent transcripts," she said.
Nursing Leader: Situation "Deplorable"
In a statement, American Nurses Association President Jennifer Mensik Kennedy called the alleged scheme "extremely unsettling" and those involved "deplorable." "This undermines everything the nursing profession represents and stands for and is in direct opposition to the Code of Ethics for Nurses," she continued. "Furthermore, these unlawful and unethical acts disparage the reputation of actual nurses everywhere … We support the investigation and the judicial process to ensure individuals found to have been involved in this scheme are held accountable."