Two graduates from the Umpqua Community College nursing program have filed a complaint against the school for abruptly canceling the program’s national accreditation right as they graduated, costing them the chance to work for a federal government facility, such as the Roseburg VA Medical Center.
The complaint for breach of contract and breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing was filed Oct. 10 in Douglas County Circuit Court. The plaintiffs, Whitney Meacham and Kay Marlow, are represented by Portland attorney Zack Duffly.
UCC has not formally responded to the complaint.
Both women live in Douglas County. Meacham works as a registered nurse in the intensive care unit of CHI Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg, and Marlow works as a lead nurse at Adapt Integrated Healthcare, also in Roseburg.
According to the complaint, graduation from a nationally accredited nursing program is a prerequisite for employment with the federal government, including at a U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs facility such as the Roseburg VA Medical Center.
The sole national accrediting body for registered nursing associate’s degree programs is the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. From 2015-2017, UCC held itself out as nationally accredited by the ACEN on its website, in its recruiting materials and in its program description.
Based on those representations, Meacham and Marlow enrolled in UCC’s registered nursing program so that, upon graduation, they would hold an associate’s degree from a nationally accredited program and be eligible to work for the federal government.
The two completed the academic prerequisites, applied for, and were accepted into the program. They paid all required tuition and fees and successfully satisfied all program requirements.
Meacham and Marlow graduated from the program on June 15, 2018. What they did not know, according to the complaint, is that several weeks before graduation, UCC had canceled the program’s national accreditation, without any notice to Meacham, Marlow or other students.
“Specifically, on April 26, 2018, at UCC’s Nursing Advisory Committee Meeting, April Myler, the Director of UCC’s Nursing Program, ratified the decision to cancel the Program’s ACEN accreditation on behalf of UCC,” the complaint said. “Importantly, under ACEN standards and criteria, nursing programs that voluntarily withdraw from the ACEN can continue their accreditation through the end of that accreditation cycle. Here, the end of the accreditation cycle would have been June 30, 2018 — two weeks after Plaintiffs’ graduation from the Program.”
“Rather than permitting its existing accreditation to run its term, UCC instead specifically requested that the accreditation be withdrawn early, effective May 31, 2018 — two weeks before Plaintiffs’ graduation,” the complaint continues. “UCC did not inform Plaintiffs of this sudden and fundamental change to the Program’s accreditation until July 17, 2018 — nearly three months after UCC canceled it, and over a month after Plaintiffs’ graduation.”
SEEKING ANSWERSWhen Meacham and Marlow graduated in June, they thought they had earned a nursing degree from a nationally accredited program, the complaint said.
After graduating, they applied to work as registered nurses at the Roseburg VA. However, the VA rejected their applications because they did not graduate from a nationally accredited program.
It took Meacham and Marlow more than a month after graduating to learn that their degrees were insufficient to get a job at the Roseburg VA, or any other federal agency or facility.
“But for the fact that Defendant intentionally surrendered the Program’s national accreditation weeks earlier than necessary, Plaintiffs would have received a degree that rendered them eligible to apply for employment with the federal government,” the complaint said.
Because of that, the women suffered economic harm from lost economic, professional and educational opportunities, and diminished earning capacity, the complaint said. They are seeking at least $30,000 each, plus attorney fees and court costs.
Duffly said he is filing the complaint now because it took Meacham and Marlow a while to even realize taking such legal action was an option, and then it took Duffly time to research the matter. Duffly also said he is not aware of any other former students filing similar complaints.
He said his clients spent years preparing for nursing school, getting their degrees and now working in that field, here locally. The decision by UCC to cancel the accreditation is something that has impacts for years, he said
“This is such a big part of your life and you’re stuck with the results,” he said. “You’re talking about a 10-year arc of someone’s life.”
Part of the reason for filing the complaint is that his clients want answers, Duffly said.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a satisfactory explanation. None of those given held water,” he said. “I think the community would benefit from understanding what happened.”
Duffly also said he reached out to UCC before he filed the complaint to see if the two sides could discuss the matter. He never heard back, he said.
UCC spokesperson Suzi Pritchard said the school is prohibited by federal law from discussing student issues.
Pritchard also said that she and UCC President Rachel Pokrandt are new to their positions, and looking into the matter.
“The issue you are referring to stems back to 2018. President Pokrandt is in her third month on the job and I am in my second week. Therefore, we are working on collecting historical information to fully understand the situation,” Pritchard said.
She also pointed out that the nursing program is accredited by a state board.
“UCC’s college nursing program is currently fully accredited by the Oregon State Board of Nursing and fully enrolled with a waitlist,” she said. “Nurses that graduate from UCC’s program work in multiple healthcare settings in Douglas County and beyond.”