PORTLAND, Maine — Aspiring registered nurse Stephanie Kourembanas says she first heard of for-profit InterCoast Career Institute through a friend, and liked the nursing program’s rolling admissions policy and its apparent accreditation.
But colleges she’s applied to won’t accept her credits, she says in a recently filed federal lawsuit, because the licensed practical nursing program lacks accreditation. And she’s still on the hook for at least $39,706 in student loans.
Kourembanas is one of several former nursing students seeking at least $5 million from a California company that shuttered its Maine licensed practical nursing program following scrutiny from state regulators.
Their claims are laid out in a class-action complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine last month that calls InterCoast Career Institute’s nursing education program at its Kittery campus a “sham” that took advantage of vulnerable students.
“Each took out thousands of dollars in federal student loans to pay for tuition at InterCoast, but none received a remotely adequate education in return,” reads the suit.
The class-action complaint also claims the company failed to provide about 300 nursing students between 2011 and 2016 with quality education needed to obtain licenses and jobs. The plaintiffs Kourembanas, Caridad Jean Baptiste, Cathy Mande and Catharine Valley are represented by Clifford & Clifford in Kennebunk and Murray Plumb & Murray in Portland.
The company used the promise of federal financial aid to lure in “poor, relatively uneducated minority woman” and then saddled them with student loan debt they couldn’t repay, according to the lawsuit.
InterCoast opened its licensed practicing nurse program in 2010 in Kittery, and the former students claim the company targeted its approximately $36,000-a-year program to students in northeastern Massachusetts with radio, video and print ads.
“This pool of prospective practical nursing students included many individuals who were unqualified, unable, or ineligible to attend existing LPN education programs in Massachusetts due to the more stringent entrance examination requirements utilized by these programs,” the suit says.
The Maine Board of Nursing received anonymous complaints about InterCoast’s practical nursing program in 2012, according to the board’s records. The board’s investigation of clinical sites affiliated with the program found few contracts, minimal paperwork and examples of students showing up without prior notice.
The Maine board told InterCoast it had to obtain accreditation by spring 2014, but the national Accredidation Commission for Education in Nursing body found the program didn’t comply with its standards.
The state gave InterCoast more time to gain accreditation, but it never did. By 2015, InterCoast closed its Kittery location and agreed to surrender its state certificate of approval.
By fall 2015, InterCoast agreed to teach out its nursing students at its South Portland location.
The company didn’t respond to request for comment.
InterCoast also is facing two other federal lawsuits by other former nursing students.