The U.S. Department of Justice is pursuing criminal charges against six Florida schools accused of engaging in a scheme to sell fraudulent nursing degrees, diplomas, and transcripts following an investigation by the FBI. These six schools and the relevant time frames for when they are accused of selling the fraudulent degrees are as follows:
- Siena College/Siena College of Health, Lauderhill (10/2003 to 9/2022)
- Sacred Heart International Institute, Fort Lauderdale (8/2017 to 9/2021)
- Quisqueya School of Nursing LLC (“Sunshine Academy”), Boynton Beach (10/2016 to 12/2020)
- Med-Life Institute WPB,LLC, West Palm Beach (10/2016 to 12/2020)
- Quisqueya Health Care Academy, LLC, Lake Worth (10/2016 to 12/2020)
- Palm Beach School of Nursing, LLC, West Palm Beach (10/2016 to 12/2020)
It is alleged that this scheme by these schools resulted in the issuance of 7,600 fraudulent nursing degrees.
In response, the State of Florida, Department of Health has begun issuing investigation letters to nurses that it believes obtained these fraudulent degrees. These letters do not provide any of the alleged information that DOH is relying on to claim that the degree is fraudulent. Further, these letters provide the recipient with an opportunity to respond to the investigation, and also provides the recipient with a form to voluntarily relinquish their nursing license.
If you are a nurse and you received one of these letters, you should contact an attorney to discuss your rights. For example, New York, which is also dealing with this issue, admits that not all of the nursing degrees issued by these schools during this time frame were fraudulent and is giving nurses the opportunity to prove their degrees were “real.” In Florida, however, the burden is on DOH to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the nurse violated a specific statute or rule and that, due to that violation, the nursing license should be revoked. Some of the specific statutes cited by the DOH investigation letter are:
- Attempting to obtain, obtaining, or renewing a license to practice a profession by bribery, by fraudulent misrepresentation, or through an error of the department or the board. Fla. Stat. s. 456.072(1)(h);
- Making deceptive, untrue, or fraudulent representations in or related to the practice of a profession or employing a trick or scheme in or related to the practice of a profession. Fla. Stat. s. 456.072(1)(m);
- Failing to comply with the requirements for profiling and credentialing, including, but not limited to, failing to provide initial information, failing to timely provide updated information, or making misleading, untrue, deceptive, or fraudulent representations on a profile, credentialing, or initial or renewal licensure application. Fla. Stat. s. 456.072(1)(w); and
- Procuring, attempting to procure, or renewing a license to practice nursing or the authority to practice practical or professional nursing pursuant to s. 464.0095 by bribery, by knowing misrepresentations, or through an error of the department or the board. Fla. Stat. s. 464.018(1)(a).
Before DOH can revoke any nursing license pursuant to these statutes, it has the burden to show that each element of the above cited statutes has been met. While it is currently unknown to the public what specific information DOH has from the FBI about any individual nurse or degree, absent clear and convincing evidence that a specific nurse’s degree was obtained fraudulently, it will be difficult to meet this burden.
Importantly, it appears that there are students that attended these accredited nursing schools that actually completed the required course work and clinical hours. While it is DOH’s burden to prove otherwise, with the appropriate documentation, affected nurses may be able to reach a quick resolution with DOH and avoid any adverse actions against their licenses.
If you have received an investigation letter from DOH regarding these nursing schools and allegations of fraudulent degrees, you should contact an attorney to help you understand your rights. At Smith & Associates we have decades of experience dealing with health care licensing issues and are here to assist you should you become the subject of a DOH investigation. Please contact us for a free initial consultation.