This Fresno State nursing program was never accredited. Now alumni credentials are at risk

The letter was a rude surprise to Joanne Beattie, a family practice nurse practitioner and graduate of Fresno State’s Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program, who was expecting to hear when she would sit for her board examinations.

Instead, the American Nurses Credentialing Center informed her that the program she’d spent $7,200 on wasn’t accredited as advertised, and that she was not eligible to test for the certification she needed to keep seeing her psychiatry patients.

“This is not a fly-by-night operation, this is one of our state schools,” Beattie said. “Now I feel like maybe this isn’t where I should have gone.”

Fresno State’s Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program has been advertised in the past as fully accredited, and graduates of the program have been able to obtain their certifications from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. But current students and alumni learned in fall 2018 that the program was never accredited, and now must re-enroll in an accredited program or lose their certifications.

The university says the program was not accredited due to an “administrative misunderstanding with the application process and requirements.”

Dean Jody Hironaka-Juteau of the College of Health and Human Services and department chair Sylvia Miller of the School of Nursing said approximately 60 students have been affected, and that the university learned of the situation at the same time as the students, in fall 2018. Two students from the 2018-19 cohort took refunds of their tuition and fees.

“We deeply regret the challenges this situation has caused our graduates, and we are committed to helping them resolve any potential impacts,” Hironaka-Juteau and Miller said in a statement. “All other programs in the School of Nursing are accredited and not affected by this situation.”

The ANCC has allowed graduates of the program who already obtained their certification to keep it for five years as long as they complete another accredited program in that time. The university is hoping to obtain accredited status in spring 2020.

Beattie said she went back to school after insurance changes dictated that she needed to obtain an additional credential in order to continue seeing her psychiatry patients. She enrolled at Fresno State in August 2017 and expected to take her exams in fall 2018, shortly after graduation.

Beattie said she is less worried about the financial loss than she is worried about the impact on her practice: She will no longer be able to see most of her 70-plus psychiatry patients. Though some of those patients can pay cash to continue to see her, her office cannot absorb the rest, meaning that many will now need to find a new provider.

California already faces a growing shortage of mental health professionals that’s especially critical in the San Joaquin Valley. One study found the state will have 41 percent fewer psychiatrists than needed by 2028, as need grows and professionals over 60 retire.

Additionally, programs for psychologists and psychiatric nurse practitioners tend to be clustered in the Bay Area and Southern California, with no programs available north of Sacramento. Without Fresno State’s program, there are no accredited mental health nurse practitioner programs in the San Joaquin Valley, though there are online options available from schools outside of the area.

The program at Fresno State consists of four theory courses and 515 hours of clinical work to “prepare primary care nurse practitioners to provide a full range of psychiatric services to patients throughout the life cycle.”

Beattie said she plans to file a grievance with the state, and will continue to work as a family practice nurse practitioner.

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Aleksandra Appleton covers schools for the Fresno Bee. She grew up in Fresno before attending UC San Diego and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.