Tag Archives: Nursing

Operation Nightingale – DOH is Issuing Administrative Complaints

As discussed in a prior article, following an investigation into six Florida schools accused of engaging in a scheme to sell fraudulent nursing degrees, diplomas, and transcripts, the State of Florida, Department of Health has begun investigating nurses that it believes obtained these fraudulent degree.

Now, DOH is moving forward with the issuance of administrative complaints. If you have received an administrative complaint, know that you must strictly comply with the time periods included in the Election of Rights. If you want to contest DOH’s complaint, you must timely elect to have a formal administrative hearing and file a petition for the same.

What is most concerning is that the students of these colleges, which were accredited by DOH, had no idea that there was any fraudulent activity going on. They attended classes, took exams, and performed their clinical hours as required by the accredited schools. DOH reviewed all of this prior to issuing the nursing licenses and still issued the license.

DOH is attempting to come back and re-review the licenses due to errors committed, not by the nurses, but by DOH and the schools at issue. This is not proper.

In fact, DOH attempted to do something similar to this in the past and it was rejected by administrative law judges. In those cases, an accredited massage therapy school incorrectly informed certain students that they could transfer credits from another school and other incorrect statements about what was necessary to get their degree. These students were unaware that these statements were in error and followed the school’s requirements and had their degrees and transcripts issued, following which they applied for and were granted massage therapy licenses.

When DOH recognized its error, it brought claims under the same statutes that it is bringing claims against students affected by Operation Nightingale. The administrative law judges presiding over these cases rejected these claims by DOH. In particular, Administrative Law Judge Van Laningham stated:

The Department takes the position that Peng’s license can be revoked based on the Department’s unilateral mistake, even if Peng did not personally commit a culpable act. Thus, the Department contends that because its staff missed several so-called “red flags” that “should have caused them to ask additional questions regarding [Peng’s] application,” Peng herself committed a disciplinable offense. This argument is rejected.

To begin, the Department’s “unilateral error” theory is inconsistent with the general procedure for licensing as set forth in section 120.60, which provides in pertinent part as follows:

(1) Upon receipt of an application for a license, an agency shall examine the application and, within 30 days after such receipt, notify the applicant of any apparent errors or omissions and request any additional information the agency is permitted by law to require. An agency shall not deny a license for failure to correct an error or omission or to supply additional information unless the agency timely notified the applicant within this 30-day period.

Given that the law unambiguously prohibits an agency from “deny[ing] a license for failure to correct an error or omission or to supply additional information unless the agency timely notified the applicant” of the particular deficiency within 30 days after receiving the application, to allow the agency later to revoke a license pursuant to section 456.072(1)(h) based solely on a purported deficiency or “red flag” in the licensee’s application of which the agency failed to give timely notice under section 120.60 not only would erode the protection that the latter statute affords specific licensees, but also would undermine the integrity of licenses in general.

Further, section 456.072(1) clearly does require a culpable ““act” on the part of the licensee as a condition for imposing discipline. Id. (“The following acts shall constitute grounds for” discipline) (emphasis added). The disciplinable acts specified in section 456.072(1)(h) are the use of a bribe, fraudulent misrepresentation, or “error of the department” to obtain a license.

Because a unilateral agency error does not involve any wrongful act on the licensee’s part, such an event cannot constitute a basis for discipline. For a disciplinable act to occur, the applicant must somehow use or take advantage of an agency error to obtain her license.

The full order can be accessed here.

DOH is seeking to hold innocent students responsible for its own mistakes and failures. Hopefully, the judges will continue to rule as they did in the above cited case and reject DOH’s attempt to relitigate the original issuance of the licenses.
If you have been issued an investigation letter or administrative complaint by the DOH regarding Operation Nightingale, you should contact an experienced attorney at Smith & Associates to discuss your rights and options.

Operation Nightingale – Know Your Rights

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.