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Man thrived as nurse, without license

Anonymous tipster sank 10-year career

 

By TANYA EISERER / The Dallas Morning News

Printed on Wednesday January 5, 2005

 

David Wayne Rhodes did so well as a nursing director at Brentwood Place nursing home that superiors promoted him to clinical services director in July. And in his August evaluation, he received high marks and a 6 percent salary hike.

But Mr. Rhodes -- who worked for Brentwood on and off since 1994 until being fired in December -- had a secret: He didn't have a nursing license. He never did.  

 

His subterfuge was laid bare in early November when an anonymous caller tipped off the state Board of Nurse Examiners, said Noemi Leal, a nursing board investigator.

 

For impersonating a nurse, Mr. Rhodes, 39, could face a Class A misdemeanor charge, which carries a jail term of one year and a up to $4,000 fine, and state officials say he could face more serious charges such as fraud, because his job entailed signing Medicare and Medicaid paperwork.

On Tuesday, two investigators from the Medicaid fraud control unit of the state attorney general's office were at the facility investigating Mr. Rhodes.

"We are certainly working with them," said Melody Chatelle, a Brentwood spokeswoman. "We turned over copies of all our paperwork to them."

The whereabouts of Mr. Rhodes, who could not be reached for comment, are unknown. Neighbors say he is no longer living in his Mesquite home, and a sister declined to comment.

Cases of faked nursing licenses are not uncommon, but background checks usually weed out phonies within weeks of application or hire. Mr. Rhodes' case is unusual because he was hired twice at the home and worked there for most of a decade, all the time never having a license. Investigators and the nursing home say they believe Mr. Rhodes forged his own way through the system.

Mr. Rhodes was fired about a month ago from his nearly $80,000-a-year job at Brentwood, a sprawling campus of one-story brick buildings on Buckner Boulevard in Pleasant Grove. One of the largest nursing home facilities in the area, Brentwood can care for up to 360 patients and employs about 350.

So how did Mr. Rhodes get hired and keep a job without a nursing license?

"There was missing paperwork, and some documents were forged," Ms. Chatelle said. "We were as stunned as anyone to find out that he did not have a license and terminated him immediately."

Ms. Leal says Mr. Rhodes' case indicates a breakdown in the facility's hiring procedures. "I don't think they did licensure verification," she said.

The state requires employers to verify that a nurse is licensed when hired, and to ensure that the nurse maintains a license.

But state officials have no record that Brentwood ever checked whether Mr. Rhodes was licensed, Ms. Leal said.

Within the nursing home facility, everyone assumed Mr. Rhodes was licensed because Brentwood officials say he was in charge of checking his own certification, and he simply faked it.

 

No school records

 

Neighbors in his well-kept Mesquite subdivision said about three years ago he bought a nearly 1,800-square-foot, three-bedroom brick home. They say he kept the recently repainted interior immaculate. He had installed new carpet and Italian tile.

He told neighbors he grew up in Mesquite with his mother, two sisters and a brother. He told them he had graduated from Texas Tech University. School officials say they have no record of him.

Neighbors say more recently he had been devastated by the loss of his brother from a heart-related ailment.

"He was a generous, caring person," said Tangie Perkins, whose family lives one house down from Mr. Rhodes. "We asked him all the time for medical advice. We thought of David like our brother."

He had grown close to neighbors and Mr. Rhodes, Mrs. Perkins, Kelly Wells and their families sometimes traded off cooking meals during the week.

They used his pool and went to dinner together, during which he would sometimes receive phone calls and afterwards tell them he had to go put IVs in patients. Neighbors also said he sometimes carpooled to work with the facility's executive director.

Mrs. Perkins, Mrs. Wells and their families also went to Las Vegas with Mr. Rhodes in March 2003, where he won $10,000 playing slots.

In hindsight, neighbors say they saw inconsistencies. For instance, he told some neighbors that he had been married and had lost a child, but then later denied having said that. He also told other neighbors that he could write prescriptions. "You just don't know where the lies stop and end," Mrs. Perkins said.

They said he had told him that a patient had died at the facility a couple of years ago, and he had been worried about getting sued for malpractice.

 

'Not cooperative'

   

On Nov. 4, an anonymous caller informed the board that they had tried to verify that Mr. Rhodes was licensed online -- where the data is available to the public. The caller "couldn't verify him in our computer system," Ms. Leal said.

"I talked to him directly on Nov. 23," Ms. Leal said. "He was not cooperative. He just said he would get back with me later because he did not have his licensure information in front of him. When I tried to call him back later that day, he wouldn't answer his phone."

On Dec. 2, she phoned the nursing home's executive director, Joyce Bonds.

"She couldn't believe that that was true," Ms. Leal said. "She thought maybe we were misinformed. She was sure that he was licensed. They had a license number for him, and it wasn't a good number. I explained to her that she could not allow him to practice because we didn't show that he was licensed."

The nursing home fired him that day.

Ironically, the nursing board does not have legal jurisdiction over Mr. Rhodes because he was not a licensed nurse. But officials are forwarding the evidence they've collected to the district attorney.

 

Hired, moved up

 

According to Ms. Chatelle, Brentwood hired Mr. Rhodes in 1994 as a charge nurse, where he supervised other nurses. He was later promoted to a director of nursing, supervising a whole building of nurses until quitting in 1997.

It's not clear where Mr. Rhodes worked before arriving at Brentwood and between 1997 and when he returned in 1999, although neighbors say he told them he had worked for a doctor and at a local hospital.

Mr. Rhodes worked as a director of nursing for about $35 an hour until his promotion to director of clinical services in July.

"David Rhodes meets and exceeds his responsibilities as director of clinical services," says a copy of his August evaluation now in state hands.

Ms. Chatelle said Mr. Rhodes had little contact with the nursing home's residents. Nursing board officials had a different view: "A director of nursing is an integral person at a nursing home," said Bruce Holter, a nursing board spokesman. "That's not someone who is on the periphery."

Ms. Chatelle said his hiring paperwork from 1994 was missing, but they did locate his 1999 new hire paperwork.

"The criminal history check came back clean," she said.

The licensure verification form lists two people as having conducted the check, she said. Both people, one of whom still works at Brentwood, disavowed any knowledge of it, she said. "We believe that he forged that verification form." Ms. Chatelle said. "I think he's a very good con man."

Mr. Rhodes' case also prompted the nursing home to check the licenses of all employees and "they're all current and correct," Ms. Chatelle said. She said they will now check each licensed person annually.

Brentwood's overall record is not out of line with other facilities, state officials said.

According to the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, Brentwood Place Three ranked near the top of certified nursing facilities in Dallas County with a score of 88. But the other two licensed buildings, Brentwood Place One and Brentwood Place Two, received scores of 56 and 63, respectively. The statewide average is 60.

 

Happens 'regularly'

 

So how often do impostors get nursing jobs? It happens fairly regularly, Ms. Leal said, but the fraud rarely succeeds.

"Usually they work maybe a few months to a year and get caught because of license verifications," she said.

Mr. Holter said the board intends to put out a bulletin about Mr. Rhodes in its January newsletter.

"There are enough safeguards where employers can easily check the licensure status of a person that they are employing," he said. "They can check either through our Web site or by phone."

Mrs. Perkins, his neighbor, said in late November that he told her the malpractice case had finally resulted in him losing his job.

"He said, 'I don't know how I'm going to pay for my house and car,' " she said.

Mrs. Perkins said he told her that he had a heart attack brought on by the stress of losing his job. "Next thing I know, he's gone," she said.

Today, a for-sale sign hangs in the front yard, although his antique furniture is inside. His slippers are still on the front porch, and the newspaper is still being delivered.

"I just can't help but think there was some reason why he felt like he needed to do this," Mrs. Perkins said.

 

Tanya Eiserer / Dallas Morning News

E-mail teiserer@dallasnews.com

Printed on Wednesday January 5th, 2005