Former employees testify against shuttered Connecticut nursing school

For the first time since its doors closed in February, former employees of a shuttered, for-profit Connecticut nursing school testified against its owner, Joseph Bierbaum during a Nov. 1 prejudgment remedy hearing, ABC affiliate WTNH reported.

Mr. Bierbaum and Stone Academy are being sued by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong alleging it violated the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. The state widened its investigation into Mr. Bierbaum and Stone Academy Oct. 23, when Mr. Tong's office announced that additional evidence led it to amend its original complaint, citing that in addition to noncompliance issues, the owners of Stone Academy "systematically siphoned millions of dollars from Stone, leaving the school financially incapable of living up to its promises." 

The Attorney General's office is now seeking to freeze Stone Academy's assets before the trial fully begins. 

For the prejudgment hearing, the state called five witnesses including former students, nurse instructors and a manager, according to WTNH

Lauren Kuzara, a former nursing instructor who departed her role at Stone Academy in 2021, testified that Mr. Bierbaum as the owner and administrator of the school had repeatedly asked her and other staff members to "do things that were unethical," like round-up students' clinical hours, WTNH reported.

Lisa Palmer, MSN, RN, a former interim director of nursing at the school, described several times seeing names on the payroll of individuals she had never worked with and did not know what their jobs entailed. 

The Attorney General's expanded complaint cites that while the program was raking in profits, students' NCLEX scores were plummeting. 

"While Stone's nursing exam pass rates faltered, Stone's owners paid themselves nearly $5 million in distributions for 2020 and 2021 alone," the release reads. "Stone's income from student fees increased from $1.8 million in 2018 to over $3 million in 2021. Yet, in many instances, students did not receive the books they paid for, struggling to learn from photocopied handouts instead."

During the same time that its owners' allegedly paid themselves $5 million, financial records show that Mr. Bierbaum purchased a $1.4 million, 9,000-square-foot mansion and was also paying around $100,000 for three luxury vehicles.

In his testimony, Mr. Bierbaum was asked about the financials related to the program and said only that "the big swelling in those years was related to pandemic-era grant programs and things that were directed toward higher education," WTNH reported. 

He also claimed that student concerns regarding non-compliance, and unqualified instructors were already addressed in 2021, even though these reports continued through late 2022. 

Trial for the case is currently set to take place Jan. 21 -24, 2025, according to state court records

Meanwhile, jury selection in a separate lawsuit by former Stone Academy students will begin next fall.

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