CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Shayna Shaw and Keashia Foster live a hundred miles apart. They've never met, but they share a very similar story.
"I just wanted to do something else," said Shaw.
Both were looking to start a new path in life. They were looking to start a career in Phlebotomy. Phlebotomists are the those in labs, hospitals and doctor's offices who draw your blood. The U.S. Department of Labor says they are in demand. There 125,000 jobs in the Phlebotomy field right now. The number is expected to grow by 25% over the next decade.
Both Shaw and Foster said they did an online search and both landed on the website of Continual Health Education and Training. The Charlotte company offered to "fast track" a new career in Phlebotomy. The program met just once-a-week for six weeks. After signing up online and making an initial payment they were both given the program's meeting location.
"I thought it would be a building, like a regular classroom," said Foster. "But it was a hotel room."
Foster's class met at the Ramada Inn in Rock Hill, South Carolina. She says when she showed up for the first class, there was no instructor and no education materials to pass out. Shaw's class met in a church office at an old brick building on North Tryon Street in Charlotte.
"First time I walked into the class I thought this is shady," said Shaw. "I wasn't the only one who thought that."
Their suspicions were further roused when they were told their remaining installment payments would have to be made in cash.
"There were people walking to the store next door to get cash to pay for this class," said Shaw.
Location and payment issues aside what about the actual instruction and training? In order to become a true phlebotomist, you need to pass an exam from a certification agency. You take the exam after completing an approved course, that includes classroom and real-life hands-on experience.
"We start off in the classroom with the mannequin arm, said Marcus Caldwell.
Caldwell helps run the Phlebotomy program at Central Piedmont Community College. He says its program includes 95 hours in the classroom. Continual Health Education and Training was offering just 12.
"So, they'll start off with (the mannequin) so when they get in the clinical site where they are drawing blood on live patients they are already comfortable with the touch," said Caldwell.
CPCC partners with several hospitals and labs around the area to fulfill another key part of Phlebotomy training. Its students spend another 100 hours working in a lab and they perform 100 actual blood draws, which is required to take the Phlebotomy certification exam.
"It has to be live patients in the clinical setting under the supervision of a certified phlebotomist," said Caldwell.
Continual Health Education and Training students told WBTV Investigates they received no training in a lab, doctor's officer or hospital.
"No, that did not happen," said Shaw. "We pretty much did an open (blood) draw on each other several times just to get our (100) draws."
Foster says they started doing those draws during their second classroom meeting.
"(The instructor) was like this is how you are going to get your sticks," said Foster.
"It worries me," said Caldwell. "To think that someone could have got through a fly-by-night program who didn't go through the proper protocols and could stick me and potentially injure me or infect me. It's a very serious concern."
It's important to point out those blood draws are to be carefully logged for accuracy before they are turned into a certification agency. Students at Continual Health Education and Training said they were allowed to count sticks they did on a mannequin toward their 100 needed draws and they were encouraged to make up names for others, in some cases by pulling them from a phone book.
"I never took blood from her. I never took blood from that person," said Foster as she looked over her blood draw log sheet.
Foster said the whole process made her so uncomfortable so she stopped doing it.
WBTV Investigates first reached out to Continual Health Education and Training by calling the phone number on its website. The voicemail box was full, so we dropped by one of the program's Saturday afternoon classes in Charlotte. Queen King was the person running it. She said we were interrupting but said she would be back at the same location the following Monday morning. We agreed to meet her at 10 a.m., but when we returned that morning the doors were locked and King was nowhere to be found.
WBTV checked with the two major Phlebotomy certification agencies, the American Society of Clinical Pathology and the American Society of Phlebotomy Technicians. Neither had records showing they had certified King as a Phlebotomist. We also found no evidence the program she runs is certified either and we couldn't find Continual Health Education and Training registered as a business with the North Carolina Secretary of State's office.
WBTV Investigates reached out to state regulators in both North and South Carolina. No one could point us to a department that has any oversight over these types of medical training programs. The North Carolina Attorney General's Office has received one complaint about Continual Health Education and Training and said it is looking into it. A spokesperson also said anyone with a complaint should contact their office.
Students at Continual Health Education and Training said they paid around $600 for the program. It's worth noting, that is the same price charged at Central Piedmont Community College.
"The only thing I have is a book," said Foster looking down on a three-ring binder of worksheets.
"I want to prevent someone else from making the same mistake that we did," said Shaw.