By Cassidy DeStefano, news correspondent
The Massachusetts nursing regulation process is under fire after state officials revoked the fraudulently obtained licenses of 13 nurses working in various hospitals and nursing homes across the state.
Those people received Massachusetts licenses after submitting paperwork from other states falsely claiming they were professionally certified. Allegations include forged signatures, authorizations from officials who retired years ago, fake addresses and false claims of national certification, according to a Boston Globe report.
In Massachusetts, a license from another state is accepted as proof of proper training and certification.
Qualifications vary from state to state, David Schildmeier, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association, said. As a result, it can be hard to verify the authenticity of transfers, especially from states with lax requirements.
“These transfers come from all over,” Schildmeier said. “Mississippi, Montana, Alabama, wherever. It doesn’t guarantee that the nurse has received the same type of training.”
The hospitals and care centers that hired one or more of the 13 frauds include Newton Wellesley Hospital, Kindred Nursing and Rehabilitation, EPOCH Senior Living in Chestnut Hill, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Benjamin Healthcare Center, the nonprofit Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at Everett, Golden LivingCenter – Wedgemere in Taunton, Vero Health & Rehab of Mattapan and Emerson Village in Watertown, according to the Globe report.
The revelations erode the trust that the public has placed in nurses, according to registered nurse Melissa Coates, who graduated from Northeastern University in May.
“I’m really surprised that this even happened,” Coates said. “If you can’t trust your nurse, how do you know that all of your other care providers are being truthful?”
Coates, who studied nursing and psychology, is currently employed in the Hematology & Oncology Department at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
A 2014 survey measuring public trustworthiness in various occupations, conducted by polling giant Gallup, ranked nursing on top for the 13th straight year, outranking other public service jobs including doctors, pharmacists and police officers.
“Year after year, when [Gallup] does national surveys about the most trustworthy profession, nursing always comes in at No. 1,” Northeastern senior Ashley Karsenty, a nursing major and president of the school’s Student Nursing Association, said.
That faith in nurses is built upon the rarity of fraud in the profession, according to Schildmeier.
“Since starting here in 1993, this is the first major disruption I’ve seen,” he said.
Although Karsenty, like Schildmeier, had not heard of any nursing fraud incidents before, she said that fraud in medicine is unfortunately not as rare as some believe.
Coates, who passed her National Council Licensure Examination this July, said that nursing is one of the professions in which trust is of utmost importance.
“If this happened in my workplace, I would just be so disappointed and shocked. We have the safety of our patients in our hands,” Coates said. “It’s a lose-lose situation for both the patient and the provider.”
To uncover the full extent of licensing misconduct – and restore faith in the process – the Division of Professional Licensure (DPL) launched an investigation into vendor Professional Credential Services to weed out fraud in professions ranging from psychologists to sanitation workers, DPL representative Pete Fullerton said.
“Thus far, we haven’t found any [other] cases of fraud in the boards we oversee,” Fullerton said. The DPL monitors 28 registration boards, encompassing more than 370,000 licensed workers in various fields.
Still, there are several factors that make such fraud possible in nursing and other accredited professions, and those factors will not disappear overnight, according to Schildmeier.
“The prevalence of online universities and the movement of nurses across the country is contributing to [fraud],” Schildmeier said.
Often, when local nurses go on strike, he added, administrative staff fly in other nurses to quickly fill the void, skipping over tedious but necessary background checks.
Several nursing professors at Northeastern declined to comment on what can be done to prevent fraud.
Schildmeier and Fullerton both said they did not want to speculate about new regulations or processes to address the problem going forward.
They were adamant, however, that cases like this one shouldn’t be allowed to happen in the first place.
“The nurses of Massachusetts work very hard to attain their licenses,” Schildmeier said. “The integrity of the nursing profession is vitally important. and the most important medical professional that comes into contact with your loved one is not your doctor, not your hospital administrator. It’s your nurse.”
Photo courtesy jasleen_kaur, Creative Commons