Stephanie Garcia, who posed as a registered nurse at Davita Dialysis on South Washington Avenue, in Marshall, was sentenced on Tuesday to 20 months in state jail for fraudulent use/possession of identifying information.
Additionally, she was sentenced to 180 days in the county jail for two counts of nursing without a license. 71st Judicial District Judge Brad Morin, who imposed the punishment, said the sentences will run concurrently.
Garcia had pled guilty to the crimes in November. A sentencing hearing to determine her punishment kicked off at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Garcia, who was hired in May 2016, also served as the Marshall location’s facility administrator. The Marshall location required the credentials of a registered nurse.
Representing the state, Hurlburt argued that Garcia, who only had one-year of college, lied about her credentials and alleged college nursing degrees, out of greed.
“You were there for 15 months. You were making around $79,000 with one year in college – no certification,” Hurlburt told Garcia, noting she was making $45,000 a year at her previous job with At Homecare.
“So you’re lying so you can get a higher paying job?” Hurlburt asked.
“I had made a move (back to Texas), so it wasn’t necessary to get a higher paying job, but a job,” Garcia responded.
The case came to the Harrison County District Attorney’s office right before Christmas 2017 when the nursing board notified the DA of the impersonation following an investigation of Garcia. The investigation was prompted by the complaint of Judy Webb, a former patient, whose husband reported Garcia to the board, alleging that Garcia violated Webb’s physician’s orders for dialysis, which caused the patient to have a medical emergency at the site.
The DA’s office subsequently turned the case over to Marshall Police Department, in January 2018, for further criminal investigation.
At Tuesday’s hearing, MPD Sgt. Carlos Pacheco, lead detective of the case, revealed that mostly all of the details listed on Garcia’s professional resume and personnel file at Davita were false.
Not only did he discover that Garcia had used the license number of a legitimate registered nurse with the same name, in Abilene, for her file for Davita, she also used the license number of an LVN (licensed vocational nurse) with the same name in California when she applied for a previous job for At Home Healthcare.
In addition to her credentials, the detective said Garcia also lied about obtaining nursing degrees from San Diego State University and Palomar College in California.
“They had never had any student enrolled by that name,” Pacheco said.
The detective said he also checked with the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Diego, an agency that Garcia had also claimed to work for and that turned out to be false.
Garcia had used the VA as a reference with a job application to Cigna Healthcare and provided a nursing license number. Pacheo said the license number Garcia put in her application for Cigna proved to be for a medical equipment tag, and not that of a certified medical assistant, as she indicated she was.
He said with her previous employment at At Home Healthcare, he found out she didn’t resign, but was fired instead.
Pacheo said regarding Davita, he interviewed several employees about Garcia.
“All of them indicated Ms. Garcia regarded herself as a registered nurse,” the detective said.
The detective said she would even sign “RN” after her name.
He also learned that Garcia was the only presumed nurse on duty at the facility for a period of eight days.
Rick Berry, representing Garcia, argued that a person in her position as facility administrator did not touch or perform a needle or dialysis procedure.
Rick Hurlburt, special prosecutor for the state, contended that several nurses witnessed Garcia administering medication and performing dialysis procedures.
Answering questions from Hurlburt, Pacheo said Garcia even wore a badge that indicated she was the facility administrator/RN. She also wore a blue jacket as worn by the RNs.
Taking the stand, 31-year-old Garcia, said she’s no longer in the medical field, but works in Houston, for a construction company as an assistant. A high school graduate in 2007, Garcia said she entered the US Navy in 2008 with the desire to be a medic. She said the Navy trained her to be a medic and she utilized that training throughout her career, including at Marshall’s Davita Dialysis.
As a medic in the Navy, she said she did patient care. Garcia said she was trained to treat injuries, respond to emergencies and trauma. She was honorably discharged.
She claimed that she had worked as a physician’s assistant for the VA.
Garcia said she applied for the job at Davita because the medical field has been her background since she was 18. She said after filling out an online application, she interviewed for the job at the Longview site. She said during the interview, she was not told she would need an RN license.
She said she they didn’t ask for a copy of her license until after she had flown to Louisiana to be interviewed before a panel, and landed the job.
“At that moment, honestly, I panicked,” Garcia told the judge. “I hadn’t had a job.”
Thus, she accessed a public system online, typed in her name, found a similar name and provided that number.
Garcia testified that she felt confident in doing the role because she went through a month of meticulous training, provided by Davita, on patient care.
“My job required me to know all the business,” she said, noting that included patient care, nursing, the biomedical, technician and the office/business side to operate efficiently.
Garcia said she also flew to Denver, Colorado, for a weeklong training for more medical knowledge. She was trained to administer medication.
“I just want to state… they were saline, calcium, vitamins,” Garcia said of the medication she was taught to administer.
When asked by Hurlburt, the special prosecutor, if she was the person administering the dialysis, Garcia said. “I never physically touched a person’s fistula, which is the source of dialysis.
“When it came to hooking up a patient with a catheter, yes,” Garcia said of what procedures she did, posing as a nurse. “I did that. I hooked the patient up to a machine.”
Garcia said on normal work days, it was her, a registered nurse and technicians at the site.
When asked by her attorney, Berry, if it ever occurred to her that what she was doing was criminal, Garcia said no.
“I know it’s going to sound really naive, but no, I did not,” she said. “I did not know that it carried this kind of penalty.”
“I didn’t know it was a criminal charge. I guess I was always in a role I was confident in my skills and it didn’t seem wrong to me.”
Garcia said she took an oath a long time ago when she joined the military to never cause harm.
“These patients go through so much,” the defendant said. “It was never my intention to make them feel (insecure) or to cause harm…to any of them.”
When asked by Berry if she now realize her actions were major, she said “completely.”
“It was a fundamental mistake, yes,” she said.
Asking for probation, Garcia said her goal is to marry her fiancé, raise her baby and be a law abiding citizen.
She asked to be placed on probation for her daughter’s benefit.
As he read her presentencing investigation statement, where she gave a confession and an apology for her actions, Hurlburt, representing the state, told Garcia that now was the time to be honest and not continue to lie on the stand.
When asked if she did more than just connect patients to dialysis machines as she portrayed while questioned by her attorney, Garcia said she did, admitting to giving injections, applying heprone and other procedures.
“Patients are putting their lives in your hands and you’re not even a registered nurse,” Hurlburt argued. “You’re performing procedures on individuals that can be life threatening if something goes wrong.”
Garcia said she understood that, but reiterated that she felt confident, particularly with real RNs there to back her up.
Hurlburt noted that LVNs even questioned her capabilities and Davita also has a civil lawsuit pending against them in the US federal court as a result of her actions.
Reminding her that the procedures she performed on patient Judy Webb was the whole reason why they ended up in court, Garcia deflected, saying “I cannot speak on her medical care.”
When asked how she would feel if she found out an impersonator nurse was performing on her loved one, Garcia said “probably scared and offended.”
“There’s no logical explanation for what I did,” she said. “It was a mistake. My qualifications came from actual experience I had in the military.”
Hurlburt argued that the case is not about just possessing someone else’s license, but what she did with the individuals’ credentials she stole to get the job.
“This is not about getting pulled over and having someone else’s driver’s license,” the prosecutor said. “You understand that the outrage of the public (is because) you’re risking people’s lives…”
“She went for the job, got the job and then to have that job and keep that job she made poor decision lying,” Berry argued in closing. “Judge, there’s no excuse as to what she’s done. I don’t think a long prison sentence is warranted for her actions here because she is an educated woman — not in degrees — but (proper) training by the US Navy.”
Hurlburt, for the state, argued that Garcia’s actions were “scary.”
“It’s been lie after lie,” said Hurlburt. “If you ask any registered nurse what (they think) this lady should get, not one will say probation,” said Hurlburt. “There’s a lot of ramifications for what Ms. Garcia did.”
He said what she did is a slap in the face to all the professional nurses that worked hard for their degrees.
“She’s harmed so many people in this (web) of lives that has gone on for years,” the prosecutor said.
He asked the judge to not give her probation, just because she has a child.
“That child is in a safe environment,” he said.
“I think the overwhelming perception of the public about what should be done in this particular case is prison time and I agree with that assessment,” said Hurlburt.“She just wasn’t honest with the court. I just don’t think dishonesty should be rewarded.”
Fraudulent use of identifying information is a state jail felony with a punishment range of 180 days to two years in prison.
Practicing nursing without a license is a Class A misdemeanor with a special punishment range of up to a year in the county jail.