SEATTLE — On Monday, the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission announced it had identified 150 nursing applicants using credentials from federally investigated Florida-based schools.
“The nursing commission is there to protect the public so we took this very seriously," said Paula Meyer, the commission's executive director.
Meyer's more than 40-year nursing career did not prepare her for what the Department of Justice called a fraudulent nursing diploma scheme.
"We found that this was a very sophisticated scheme for fraudulent transcripts," she said.
The DOJ alleges the three, now-closed colleges in Florida were selling fake nursing diplomas. It allowed people who were underqualified to sit for their boards, apply for licenses, and in some cases, get jobs. About 7,600 fake diplomas were sold according to the DOJ, bringing in around $114 million between 2016 and 2021.
Of the 150 people identified in Washington as having ties to the schools, seven licenses have been rescinded, 32 are in legal limbo waiting on a decision, four applicants were denied and 30 applicants are also in legal limbo with no final decision. Another 77 remain under investigation
"Nursing is the number one most trusted profession in the U.S. and has been for many years, according to Gallup polls," Meyer said. "People trust nurses blindly and they expect they know what they're doing at the bedside."
When asked if the nursing shortage, exacerbated by the pandemic, had a hand in how this scheme flew under the radar, she said, "We did our best - all the state boards - to review those licenses, review the applications to make sure they met the requirements," she said. "We also had some of the emergency waivers so nurses could come into our state to take care of the most vulnerable people. But, again, we're there to make sure to do as much as we can to protect the public.
Meyer wants the public to know they're working diligently to make sure every nurse working in Washington is legitimate, properly educated and trained.
The 25 people charged in the fake diploma scheme could face up to 20 years in prison.