The US Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General have identified a wire fraud scheme to sell false and fraudulent nursing degree diplomas and transcripts. Coined as Operation Nightingale, the scheme has resulted in the distribution of more than 7,600 fake nursing diplomas and transcripts obtained from accredited Florida-based nursing schools to registered nurse (RN) and licensed practical nurse/vocational nurse (LPN/VN) candidates.
To date, the schools associated with the scheme are Siena College, Palm Beach School of Nursing, and Sacred Heart International Institute (each now closed), as well as Quisqueya School of Nursing LLC, Quisqueya Health Care Academy LLC, Sunshine Academy, and Florida College of Health. It is reported that additional organizations may be involved, and the investigation is ongoing.
After obtaining the fraudulent diplomas and transcripts, the candidates allegedly then used the fake credentials to sit for the national nursing board exam and subsequently obtain licensure (and presumably healthcare jobs) in at least five states identified so far: Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Florida. In collaboration with law enforcement, it is reported that states as far as Washington are beginning to identify nursing applicants who used credentials from the federally investigated Florida-based schools.
To date, 25 individuals have been charged for their alleged participation in the scheme. No patient harm resulting from the care provided by any of the individuals with fraudulent credentials has been reported yet.
It is yet to be determined what coordinated action licensing boards in affected states will take. As of this writing, Delaware has annulled 26 Delaware nurse licenses as a result of information from the Operation Nightingale investigation.
In the meantime, healthcare providers should prepare to guard against the potential patient safety and billing implications to the extent they are employing or contracting with any RNs or LPN/VNs with credentials from the schools associated with this scheme.
We are monitoring this evolving situation. Please contact us if you would like to assess the proactive steps your healthcare organization can take to mitigate risk associated with nurses hired who may have degrees from the schools and organizations implicated by this enforcement sweep.
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