Federal and state officials are cracking down on nurses who hold “bogus” licenses, following an investigation into three Florida schools that allegedly sold diplomas to approximately 7,600 people. 

The Department of Justice’s Operation Nightingale revealed that diploma recipients paid an average of $15,000 for bogus diplomas, and that approximately 2,400 of them went on to pass various state licensing exams to become registered nurses. Since the scam and related prosecutions were announced in January, officials have been working to track down holders of invalid diplomas. 

Court documents indicate some of the individuals with allegedly fake diplomas became employed at a nursing home in Ohio. Students came from Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas, the AP reported. Licensing boards and commissions in Washington state, Delaware and Georgia have rescinded or asked for the voluntary surrender of 65 licenses. The Texas Board of Nursing is letting 23 people there continue working as nurses while their disciplinary cases are pending, per the Associated Press. 

Many of those individuals took their licensing exam in New York, where people can sit for the test multiple times, according to reporting by the Associated Press. 

The AP reported that “some” of the 903 licensed nurses in New York who graduated from the schools involved in the sting did, in fact, attend required hours and clinicals and are properly licensed” and they can submit verification of their status through a qualified nursing program but have been ordered to surrender their licenses until they prove legitimacy.

Recent New York Department of Education guidance notes that it has no reason to suspect any “impropriety” if a licensed nurse graduated from one of the schools during a different period. The guidance makes clear, though, that anyone registered in New York as a nurse must have completed the required coursework and clinical hours.

“Work experience does not substitute for clinical instruction,” the website states.

The head of one of New York’s largest SNF advocacy groups said just two facilities have been contacted by authorities with questions about employees regarding the scam. 

“Nursing homes in New York are highly regulated,” said Stephen B. Hanse, president and CEO of NYSHFA | NYSCAL. Hanse to McKnights Long-Term Care News Thursday. “We feel very confident that the hiring policies and procedures that are in place are working.”

Hanse said he did not have details on the two SNFs contacted by authorities other than it did not appear any licenses were fraudulent.

The three schools in Florida caught up in the scam investigation are the Palm Beach School of Nursing; Siena College in Broward County; and the Sacred Heart International Institute, also in Broward.