Nurse degree scheme raises legal questions for hospitals

Mackenzie Bean (Twitter) – 2 days ago

As nursing boards and state authorities work to root out the several thousand nurses practicing with fake degrees nationwide, questions are emerging about hospitals’ legal obligations to do their own investigations. 

The coordinated scheme to sell aspiring nurses fake diplomas and transcripts has allowed more than 2,800 individuals to pass the National Council Licensure Examination without proper training, many of whom went on to gain licensure and employment at healthcare facilities nationwide, federal authorities said. 

Rather than waiting for state nursing boards to identify these individuals and take disciplinary action, hospitals should be doing their own deep dives into their personnel files, David Schumacher, former deputy chief of the healthcare fraud unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, told Becker’s.

Mr. Schumacher, now a managing partner and co-chair of the fraud and abuse practice at Hooper Lundy & Bookman’s Boston office, said he believes there is not a strong case for a family or patient to sue hospitals for the care provided by a nurse with a fake degree. 

“As long as there’s no evidence that the hospital was in on it, that the hospital was aware that the degree was fraudulent, I don’t know that there is much basis for a civil lawsuit,” he said.

However, if a patient experienced some sort of malpractice or harm under the care of such a nurse and the hospital or staffing firm “didn’t do the due diligence, then to some extent, they’re going to be liable,” David Weinstein, a compliance and white collar defense partner on the healthcare team at Jones Walker’s Miami law office, told Becker’s

But for hospitals and staffing firms, questions remain about how much due diligence they will be required to conduct moving forward to ensure nursing candidates have the proper credentials. 

“How much due diligence do you do?” Mr. Weinstein said. “If I’m a hospital or clinic and somebody presents me with a licensing certificate, which means that they had to show the licensing board that they had a degree and diploma, do I now demand that they give me a copy of the diploma, or should that not matter?”

He recommended hospitals ask every nurse applying for a job to provide their transcripts and degree, even if it may ruffle the feathers of some candidates. 

“If they do that, then they’ve done all the due diligence that they can,” he said.  

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