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SWFL health leaders react to fake nursing degree scandal

On Thursday, the Justice Department announced the arrests of leaders and recruiters tied to Siena College, Sacred Heart International Institute and the Palm Beach School of Nursing.
Posted at 7:08 PM, Jan 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-27 19:39:13-05

From the moment we’re born to when we pass away, nurses are there every step of the way.

In the wake of a shocking scandal, where more than two dozen people are charged in scheme to provide fake nursing degrees, local health leaders are working to assure the public that patients are safe.

On Thursday, the Justice Department announced the arrests of leaders and recruiters tied to Siena College, Sacred Heart International Institute (both out of Broward County) and the Palm Beach School of Nursing.

Authorities say the schools sold nursing diplomas to more than 7,600 students for $15,000 a piece.

The students didn’t spend a second in the classroom or in clinical training.

“The last thing we want to learn is the nurses administering the medications, the ones charged with carrying out a doctor’s order, took shortcuts on their clinical training. And used fake nursing diplomas to get their licenses and jobs,” said Markenzy Lapointe, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Dr. Brenda Hage, the Director of FGCU’s School of Nursing, told Fox 4 Investigates she was stunned when she heard of the scandal.

“(Patients) need to know that nurse that’s with them and their family is going to give them safe and ethical care,” Hage said.

“I can’t speculate as to how or why people would choose to do that instead of enrolling in a program, investing the time and energy to be successful and knowing that you’re competent.”

At FGCU, nursing students go through a four-year degree program.

The students spend hours in the classroom and in clinical training.

The school has the state’s highest pass rate on the certification exam.

But the students at the three nursing schools in Broward and Palm Beach Counties “didn’t go through that,” Lapointe said, “that part was completely skipped by getting the fake diplomas.”

State licensing boards in Florida, New York, New Jersey and Texas are looking into their records to find any fraudulent nurses.

The DOJ says despite the fake nurses, their investigation hasn’t found any harm done to patients.

Lee Health told Fox 4 Investigates they are “not aware of any nurses at our health system that obtained fraudulent degrees from these institutions.”

Their statement continues to say “we have a thorough screening process for all new employees. The human resources department conducts primary source verification of licensure or certification based on the position for new hires. This primary source verification is done through the State of Florida Department of Health official health website and a national database for verification of nurse licensure, discipline and practice privileges for nurses.”

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