The COVID-19 pandemic brought significant changes to healthcare delivery by nurses, resulting in burnout and mental health concerns across all healthcare settings.
Leading nursing organizations issued a cautionary statement, urging nurses not to spread misinformation about COVID-19, vaccinations, and treatment.
Failure to comply could lead to professional licensing proceedings for unprofessional conduct by state nursing boards.
Unexpectedly, the pandemic also led to some nurses attempting to profit financially from the crisis. In April 2023, two nurse midwives, along with their co-conspirators, were criminally indicted for the theft of government funds.
Particulars of the Indictment
One nurse midwife, employed at a women's health care center, conspired with the center's owner (also a midwife) and others to obstruct the government's administration and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
The alleged scheme involved enrolling as vaccine providers with the state to obtain genuine COVID-19 vaccination cards. They then forged these cards to falsely indicate that unvaccinated individuals had received the COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine cards were meant for patients who had actually received the vaccine.
The vaccination cards were required to be given to patients who had received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Among other actions, the allegations against the nurse midwives and their co-conspirators include:
- Soliciting individuals from a specific part of the state to make appointments at the center to receive false and fraudulent documentation of having received the vaccine
- Not administering the vaccine during vaccination clinics, but instead destroying vials of COVID-19 and providing forged vaccination cards to those individuals
- Falsifying required documents regarding the COVID-19 vaccinations
- Distributing forged vaccination cards from June 2021 to March 2022 – The group allegedly made more than 2,600 false entries into the state's databases for the vaccination, negatively affecting COVID-19 vaccine distribution and public health.
- Receiving “donations” to the clinic in exchange for forged vaccination cards (the funds were then transferred to the center’s owner)
- Providing vaccines to minors who were not eligible for the vaccine and to Canadians who lacked immigration documents to enter the United States
- These actions led to charges of conspiracy to commit offenses, fraud, and forfeiture of property obtained through criminal activity.
The Conspiracy to Defraud the United States charges (Title 18, United States Code, Section 371) against all defendants also included charges based on Title 18, United States Code, Section 981 (forfeiture of real or personal property from proceeds that are directly or indirectly the result of the offense), among others.
If convicted, the defendants face up to 10 years in prison in addition to forfeitures. An LPN who also worked at the center pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the same conspiracy.
What this indictment means for you and your nursing practice
Sadly, this is not the first situation involving allegations of healthcare fraud by nurses. Whether you are an APRN, an RN, or an LPN, this case presents many caveats for your practice.
- Stay vigilant against fraud and abuse.
- If suspect any questionable practices in your workplace, consult a nurse attorney or attorney to determine if your concerns are well founded, and your attorney’s guidance, report those concerns to the appropriate authorities.
- Above all, avoid becoming involved in any scheme to defraud state or federal governments or any other entities for that matter. As tempting as such a scheme might appear, its consequences are far-reaching.
Engaging in such activities can have far-reaching consequences, including potentially leading to exclusion from government healthcare programs.
Exclusion from programs like Medicaid can result in non-payment for your services, making it difficult to provide care to clients relying on Medicaid. Additionally, you could be included on other exclusion lists from state and federal programs that support client care, including the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Office of Inspector General’s Exclusion List.
HHS’ Exclusion List consists of mandatory and permissive exclusions. Again, no payment for services provided by you would occur. Employers are required to check the HHS list periodically to ensure that no healthcare provider on the list is hired or is an employee.
As a result of the employer check requirement, finding future employment would be difficult at best. Establishing a clinical practice of your own would also be difficult since your source of revenue would be from private pay clients only.
Involvement in fraudulent schemes may also trigger professional licensure proceedings by your state board of nursing, potentially resulting in the suspension or revocation of your nursing license. Grounds for such proceedings can include unprofessional conduct, unethical behavior, falsification of patient care records, and the use of false or deceptive statements in connection with your practice.
It’s important to note that the allegations against the nurse midwives and their co-conspirators have yet to be proven in court. However, they face a challenging legal process as they contest these allegations.
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