Bad Medicine

Has the St. Louis College of Health Careers failed to deliver on promises of a good education and rewarding jobs?

Not true, counters Lark Riehn. "I would actually drive out to [the publisher] and get the books," she remembers. "I had a check, and I'd physically put the books into my vehicle."

Several former instructors say the college didn't provide even the most basic supplies, such as chalk. "We'd go across the street to Walgreens and buy paper ourselves to make copies for our tests," says a former teacher.

Also, much of the medical laboratory equipment was old and broken. Says former director of nursing and allied health Cindy Ness: "Getting the equipment you needed was a problem."

Sisters Latisha and Arlisa Tally say they didn't have 
teachers or textbooks in their classes at the St. Louis 
College of Health Careers.
Jennifer Silverberg
Sisters Latisha and Arlisa Tally say they didn't have teachers or textbooks in their classes at the St. Louis College of Health Careers.
From Highway 40, the three-story St. Louis College of 
Health Careers building at 909 South Taylor Avenue 
looks impressive.
Jennifer Silverberg
From Highway 40, the three-story St. Louis College of Health Careers building at 909 South Taylor Avenue looks impressive.

Former instructor Tapp recalls trying to teach students how to sterilize medical instruments in a broken autoclave machine.

"The ultrasound machine simply did not work," Tapp says. "The microscopes -- the majority of them did not work. There was no audio-visual equipment except for one TV, and we were in a three-story building without an elevator so it had to be carried up the stairs."

Tapp notes that poorly trained students can eventually endanger patient's lives. "There is a serious risk of false results," he explains. For example, a technician who doesn't know how to use the electrocardiogram (EKG) properly "could lead to the doctor misinterpreting the EKG results and medicating inappropriately."

From Highway 40, the St. Louis College of Health Careers looks impressive. A footbridge across the freeway connects the three-story building to the Barnes-Jewish medical complex in the Central West End.

The college moved last year from its cramped quarters on West Pine to the building at 909 South Taylor Avenue, which Barsam and Robinson bought from the Central Institute for the Deaf for at least $2 million, according to city real-estate records.

Inside, framed occupancy permits and sales-tax certificates hang on the powder-blue walls of the school's lobby. A few metal folding chairs surround a large conference table where a perky admissions representative explains all the college has to offer to a prospective student.

On glossy, full-color brochures are photographs of beautiful women wearing stethoscopes and scrubs as they comfort the sick or look thoughtfully at a patient's chart.

Lynn Mareschal of St. Ann visited the city campus in 2002 to enroll in the echocardiogram-technician program. She was told she first needed to complete a patient-care technician program, which cost $8,000.

"The teachers missed class on a regular basis. I only got half the clinical hours I needed, and the classes were three hours, but they usually only kept us for an hour," she wrote in a September 2002 complaint to the Better Business Bureau. "Now I found out that the [echocardiogram] program has been cancelled."

Thirteen students filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau between August 2001 and June 2004.

Former instructor Carol Worth says college officials enrolled pharmacy-technician students even though the school did not have a pharmacy teacher on staff. When it was time to take pharmacy classes in the second semester, adds Worth, "They would tell them, 'Go ahead and go into the coding and billing class -- and you can always come back and take pharmacy for free.'"

Carol Bennett of Lemay says college recruiters told her she'd be a certified medical coder when she graduated. But in complaints to the Better Business Bureau, Bennett and other students claim coding was never taught during the one-year, ten-thousand-dollar program.

"I can't find a job, and I have a huge loan to pay off," Bennett says. "I feel manipulated, lied to and cheated."

When Bennett visited the south-county campus in 2002, a recruiter told her she would need to take an entrance exam to evaluate her reading, writing and math skills. Bennett conceded she was terrible at math.

"He took the math part of the test for me," she admits. "I knew it was wrong, but I wanted to go to school so bad. I wanted to make a better life for me and my family."

Sandy Kaup, the former director of college admissions, denies that prospective students were given answers. But two former administrators say they found exam booklets with the answers written on them.

"The pre-test was supposed to be in the [student] file," explains an ex-campus director. "I would find the pre-test in the trash with the answers on it. Then I went to their file, and there was the same exact test. That's why I left."

Another former instructor says, "I had a student who couldn't read. How did she get in?" Five other ex-teachers confirm that students in their classes couldn't read or write.

Staff members felt pressured to enlist students because those who failed to meet their enrollment goals were fired. Says a former admissions representative: "It is a sales environment."

Dr. David Goldberg, who taught physiology at the college for five months in 2003, says those charges are simply not true. "I was never pressured to pass anyone."

Recruiters may have been fired for "not working," says Sandy Kaup. But he insists the college never required employees to make quotas -- a practice outlawed by the U.S. Department of Education.

Darryl Spencer, the former director of placement, says he battled for years with the admissions department "because they would bring in people who couldn't succeed in the program. I'd tell them, 'Don't fill their heads with dreams.'"

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