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Phony nursing credential fooled PHCC for 18 years

NEW PORT RICHEY — When Sandra Wilbanks applied to teach health courses at Pasco Hernando-Community College 18 years ago, her credentials were an affable teaching style and a photocopied nursing license.

Only one was genuine.

Wilbanks, 59 of Shady Hills, was arrested this week and charged with forgery, scheming to defraud and practicing or advertising as a nurse without a license — all felonies.

Since 1990, she taught courses including phlebotomy, medical language and fundamentals of disease at the school's New Port Richey campus. Students raved about her. They wrote in class evaluations that she was the best teacher they ever had and that she cared about them personally.

Every few years, when the school asked faculty members for updated licenses, Wilbanks handed over a copy of a registered nurse's license — though only after a delay, a college spokeswoman said Thursday.

Then, during a re-accreditation this spring, a clerk plugged Wilbanks' license number into the state database and came up with someone else's name.

That discrepancy prompted the school to contact the state Department of Health, which investigated and called the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

PHCC spokeswoman Lucy Miller said Wilbanks slipped through because she was hired before such records could be verified online.

"Because she was a longtime employee, and we had her license on file, we just asked her for her updated license," Miller said.

New employees' credentials are now routinely verified at the time they're hired, she said.

Wilbanks, who earned about $45,000 a year, did not teach students in PHCC's nursing programs, Miller said.

Wilbanks was an instructor in the technical certificate credit program, designed to train students to go directly into the medical field for jobs like phlebotomist and medical transcription.

The state does not require an RN license for instructors of such courses. But the college does.

"She would never have gotten the position in the first place" without a nursing license, Miller said.

But Miller said there aren't concerns about the quality of Wilbanks' instruction. Her superiors routinely observed her in the classroom, and her students performed well on state exams.

"They had to learn certain things to go through the program, and apparently all that was working just fine, which is why we never mistrusted her," Miller said.

Wilbanks earned an associate's degree in applied science in nursing from Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina in 1978 — a credential verified by PHCC. She also had an RN license in that state, but it was revoked in 1974, according to the sheriff's report.

Officials at the North Carolina Board of Nursing could not provide details about that Thursday.

Wilbanks, who was arrested Wednesday and released from jail later that day after posting $15,000 bail, did not respond to a message left at her home. She has no prior arrests in Florida.

She last taught in February and then went on medical leave for knee surgery.

Miller said she doesn't know if Wilbanks came to suspect she was being investigated. But after repeated requests, beginning in March, for her updated license, Wilbanks said she may have let it expire. Then she announced she would retire early.

A state Department of Management Services spokeswoman said workers in the Florida Retirement System forfeit their benefits if they are convicted of a felony, though they can appeal.

Wilbanks has one last paycheck coming to her, Miller said. But she won't get it until she comes in for an exit interview and turns in her key.

Phony nursing credential fooled PHCC for 18 years 06/26/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 30, 2008 4:50pm]
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