9OYS Consumer Watch: Nurse Impostors

AZ Board of Nursing spokesperson Valerie Smith says posing as a nurse is a class 6 felony.

9OYS Consumer Watch: Nurse Impostors

CREATED Feb 23, 2012

Reporter:  Jessica Chapin

TUCSON (KGUN9- TV) - More than 70 thousand nurses are trusted with people's lives across the
state, but some may care more about the paycheck than the patient.  The Arizona Board of
catches nurse impostors every year.

Board spokesperson Valerie Smith says they've caught 99 nurse impostors in the past 10 years. Each one is listed publicly on their website, and in a journal issued to hospitals throughout the state.  They are people who fake a license, steal someone's certification, or simply try to
practice without one at all.

"Part of that is the economy, part of that is looking in health care, you open up the newspaper, and where are there jobs, there's jobs in health care, and desperate times bring on desperate behaviors," said Smith, "I think there's high potential for harm.  These are individuals who don't have the appropriate knowledge, background, credentials."

According to Gallop Polls, nursing has been the nation's most trusted profession for the past 10 years straight.

"When you say that you're a nurse, the public tends to trust you," said Smith.  Impersonating a nurse is a class 6 felony, but that doesn't stop some people from trying it. 

On the board's list is Olivia Bustamante, accused in 2011 of using an altered I.D badge and claiming to be a nurse employed with St. Joseph's Hospital.  According to Smith, the hospital had no record of her employment, and the board found no record of her certification.

Dozens more reflect similar behavior.  Many have past medical experience, but some cases involved people who the board claims were in it just to access patient information.

"We have seen a case of stolen identity where the purpose was to financially gain by accessing the patient information and taking on the patient identity of those patients and take out loans, credit cards," said Smith.

9 On Your Side reporter Jessica Chapin asked Smith what people can do to make sure their nurses are real.  Smith said it's up to employers to look for red flags like the following:

- Inconsistencies on their resume
- Names that differ on documents they submit
- Providing a copy of the license instead of the original
- Demonstrating a lack of skills necessary for the job

The AZ Board of Nursing also has an online certification check on their website anyone can access.  Simply type the person's license number or first and last name to get proof of their nursing status.

It's a system Maureen Fishman with El Rio Community Health Center uses to help screen their staff of 25 nurses. 

"It's important for patient safety," she said, "Our number one concern here is patient safety."

In addition to the online check, they also consult the nurse's school to confirm their degree, and they recently formed a clinical credentialing committee to ensure every applicant has the correct license for the job.

Even after a nurse is hired, they are under close observation for 90 days.

"In their probationary period, they have to demonstrate the skills that they say they have," said Fishman.

They're steps Smith says every employer should take, whether it's a large hospital or someone hiring in-home care.  Give the nurse a check-up before they check in.