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Seven Things To Know When You Receive A Notice Of Investigation From The Department Of Health

States Take Action to Stop Nurses From Certain Schools From Caring For Patients

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

In late February 2023, multiple states began taking action against licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) because of the FBI’s “Operation Nightingale.”  This is also being pushed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCBSN).  “Operation Nightingale” is a federal investigation into a wire fraud scheme in which a number of now-closed Florida nursing schools allegedly sold phony nursing diplomas and transcripts from 2016 to 2022, which they then used to apply for and receive nursing licenses.

As a result of this, state nurse licensing officials are scrambling to stop nurses with fraudulent academic credentials from caring for patients. Thousands of notices of investigation from various states have gone out to nurses who indicated on their original licensing applications that they had graduated from one of these Florida Schools.  What is really disheartening, however, is the fact that many of the schools involved were fully accredited schools of nursing.  What is even more disheartening is that many nurses actually attended courses at these schools and did clinical rotations at these schools, earning their degrees honestly.  Even these are receiving notices that they are now under investigation.

According to prosecutors, about 7,600 students paid an average of $15,000 for bogus diplomas. In addition, around 2,400 people passed a licensing exam to obtain jobs as registered nurses and licensed practical nurses in multiple states. It is not entirely clear how many of the roughly 2,400 nurses with credentials from the identified schools are currently employed, or where, officials said.

If you are a nurse who receives one of these notices of investigation from the Florida Department of Health (DOH) or any state board and you have insurance from CM&F Group, Nursing Service Organization (NSO),  CPH & Associates, or one of the other professional liability insurance companies, your insurance company may cover your legal defense expenses. Call your insurance company or call us.


Are Honest Nurses Getting Caught Up In the Investigation?  Yes they are!

Attorneys for several nurses in New York and Georgia argue that nurses who legitimately earned diplomas are getting caught up in the investigation. “There are obviously people who bought transcripts who are fraudulent and should not be practicing nursing under any circumstances,” said Atlanta attorney Hahnah Williams. “But there are also people who went to those schools legitimately and did nothing wrong. And they are somehow being lumped together with the fraudulent nurses.” The Health Law Firm’s president, George F. Indest III, in Orlando, Florida, also confirmed what Ms. Williams stated.

Additionally, New York’s Office of the Professions posted on the New York Education Department’s website that it expects some of the 903 licensees who attended the schools [who are now licensed in New York] “did attend required hours and clinicals and are properly licensed.” As a result, those individuals are now being asked to have a qualified nursing program submit verification.

The Big Question: Have They Been Successful at Finding Any Nurses With False Credentials?

So far, the Washington State Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission rescinded the nursing licenses of 17 people and denied license applications for four others. The Delaware Board of Nursing annulled 26 licenses. As well as the Georgia Board of Nursing asked 22 nurses to surrender their licenses voluntarily. Licensing officials in Texas filed administrative charges against 23 nurses, but they can continue working while their disciplinary cases are pending.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) said that it removed 89 nurses “from patient care” nationwide in 2022 immediately after being notified by federal officials of the potential problem.  Still, the agency has not found any instances of harm done to patients.

In Florida, there are literally thousands of nurses who are being notified that they are under investigation related to this situation.  Many have been practicing nursing for five years or more.

To learn even more, read my prior blog here.

In addition, you can stay on top of the Operation Nightingale investigation by checking for updates on our Articles and Documents section on our website.

What You Should Do If You Receive a Notice of Investigation or a Call from an Investigator.

If you receive any contact from any investigator, here is what you should do:

1.    DO NOT TALK TO THE INVESTIGATOR OR MAKE ANY STATEMENT.  Tell the investigator you must speak with your attorney first.

2.    Contact your professional liability insurance company to see if you have coverage for this matter.

3.    Contact an experienced health law attorney, immediately. DON’T WAIT! The attorney will be able to lead you through this process.

4.    DO NOT TALK TO THE INVESTIGATOR OR MAKE ANY STATEMENT.  Your attorney can do all the communicating from this point on.


Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced in Investigations Against Nurses and Nursing Students.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to nurses, nursing students, Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), CRNA’s and other health professionals in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, license defense hearings, Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations, board of nursing investigations, formal and informal administrative hearings, emergency suspension orders, emergency restriction orders, appeals and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or toll-free (888) 331-6620 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.


Sources:

Hill, Michael. “States move to crack down on nurses with bogus diplomas.” Associated Press. (March 1, 2023). Web.

Whitford, Emma. “How Thousands Of Nurses Got Licensed With Fake Degrees.” Forbes. (February 21, 2023). Web.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 or Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.


Current Open Positions with The Health Law Firm.  The Health Law Firm always seeks qualified individuals interested in health law.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  If you are a current member of The Florida Bar or a qualified professional who is interested, please forward a cover letter and resume to: [email protected] or fax them to (407) 331-3030.

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