Woman Works at LTC for Four Years With Fake Nursing Degree

Posted on behalf of Jeff Pitman on November 1, 2023 in Nursing Homes and Elder Rights
Updated on April 24, 2024

photo illustration of nurse holding a patient's handsAn Iowa woman from Cedar Rapids was recently investigated after raising suspicion that she may have obtained her nursing diploma fraudulently. Using this fake nursing degree, state officials say she was able to get hired by one of the largest nursing home companies in Iowa. She continued to work at this company for four years.

Following an FBI investigation, The Iowa Board of Nursing determined that the evidence collected against Helena Dahnweigh was enough to substantiate that she had committed fraud to get her nursing license. As a result of the evidence provided by state officials, the nursing board voted to revoke her license.

How the Fraudulent Degree Was Discovered

Operation Nightingale was the name of the FBI investigation initiated to identify nursing education programs that were suspected of selling fake transcripts and diplomas. MLI was just one of the businesses investigated in this operation and ultimately implicated as a result of this investigation.

Iowa is apparently known for being a state that makes less of an effort to scrutinize practitioners seeking licensure. In this state, applicants can also take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) an unlimited number of times.

To capture these fraudsters in the act, multiple undercover agents went through the process of attempting to purchase fake nursing diplomas. They were successful, despite having no medical training or background. All they had to do was pay the requested amount of $17,000.

Multiple Individuals Prosecuted

The investigation led the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute multiple people allegedly involved in the fake nursing diploma scheme. Among those charged was Johana Napoleon, owner of MLI and the Palm Beach School of Nursing.

Although Dahnweih admits she did not do any coursework or engage in any clinical education, she denies knowing her degree was fraudulently obtained.

Dahnweih was hired by Care Initiatives of West Des Moines in 2019, shortly before she received her license. According to the nursing board, Dahnweih continued working there and was still an employee at this facility as of this past summer.

Fake Nursing Colleges in Florida Closed

During their investigation, the FBI uncovered a total of three “nursing schools” that were issuing fake nursing diplomas for money in South Florida, including:

  • Siena College in Broward County
  • The Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County
  • Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County

Although all three of these schools have since been shut down, several states have been affected by the fake nurses they produced.

Today there are 25 defendants being charged who could each face up to 20 years behind bars for their alleged participation in the wire fraud scheme that enabled thousands to obtain fraudulent nursing diplomas.

How Much Can You Trust the Nurses Handling Your Care?

According to an article in the the Iowa Capital Dispatch, Dahnweih is not the only nurse who was discovered to have fraudulently obtained her nursing degree.

In fact, according to a recent Y!News report, over 7,600 individuals managed to purchase fraudulent nursing diplomas. Of those individuals, 2,600 used their fake diplomas to take the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX). After passing the exam, they went on to gain employment as nurses nationwide, but without having received any approved training or education.

Unfortunately, the scope of this scheme, which was nationwide, started in 2016 and ended in 2021, accumulating over $100 million for the fraudsters. Today, healthcare professionals are right to be concerned about the impact the findings of this investigation will have on the public’s trust in the nursing profession.

The director of nursing at Florida Gulf Coast University, Brenda Hage, says this scheme is offensive to those who are in the process of trying to earn their nursing degree. She is especially concerned about the type of message it sends the public.

“This creates a false sense of information to the public, that somehow it’s really easy to sit for the NCLEX exam to become a licensed registered nurse, and nothing can be further from the truth.”

The greater problem is, of course, the potential harm these fake nurses may have caused patients in their care.

Hage says the NCLEX exam is a difficult exam that typically takes up to five hours to finish.

Call PKSD for Nursing Home Injuries Today

At PKSD, we work hard to keep the public informed about the potential for nursing home abuse, neglect and other harm.

If your loved one in a nursing home has been injured, we encourage you to contact our law offices to discuss your situation. Our nursing home abuse attorneys have extensive experience handling cases where residents were harmed by nursing home negligence, and we are committed to holding at-fault parties accountable for their actions. We currently accept cases in Iowa, Wisconsin and New Mexico. There are no upfront costs when you choose our firm to represent you. We only get paid if you do.

Call to request a FREE case review today at PKSD today. 414-333-3333

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