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Texas Nurse Acquitted of Felony Charge for Reporting Doctor

Texas Nurse Acquitted of Felony Charge for Reporting Doctor

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

February 12, 2010

Feb. 12—A Kermit nurse did not commit a felony by reporting concerns about a doctor to the state medical board, a West Texas jury decided Thursday.

The jury of six men and six women deliberated for about one hour before reaching their verdict in a case that had drawn national attention. After the verdict was read, each of the jury members went over to the nurse and hugged her, courtroom observers said.

Texas nurses and association leaders said the verdict was a show of support for Texas nurses as those who are in the front lines of patient safety.

“It’s wonderful news for us,” said Clair Jordan, executive director of the Texas Nurses Association in Austin. Without such a vote of confidence, she said, “there would have been a chilling silencing of a very strong voice for patients.”

The Texas regulatory boards for doctors and nurses had both admonished prosecutors for charging nurse Anne Mitchell.

Mitchell, who worked as the compliance officer for Winkler County Memorial Hospital, was charged with misuse of official information after she and another nurse, Vickilyn Galle, the hospital’s quality improvement officer, reported their concerns about Dr. Rolando Arafiles Jr. to the Texas Medical Board.

Mitchell reported what she considered a pattern of improper prescribing and surgical procedures. The two nurses did not sign the letter. But after the medical board contacted Arafiles as part of its investigation, he turned to the Winkler County sheriff, who got a search warrant and seized the nurses’ computers.

Had Mitchell been found guilty, nurses would have been hesitant to blow the whistle in cases that involved potential harm to patients, said Kathy Thomas, executive director of the Texas Board of Nursing.

The Texas Medical Board had told prosecutors that it was improper to put Mitchell on trial for reporting her concerns.

Sheriff Robert Roberts, a friend of Arafiles, said the nurses circumvented hospital policy for reporting bad medical practices because of what he called a personal vendetta against Arafiles. He also said that the nurses didn’t seek patients’ permission when they sent medical records of 10 patients to the board. The records did not include the patients’ names.

The hospital fired both nurses.

Both were indicted for the felony charge, but the case against Galle was dropped before Mitchell went on trial.

Many nurses had complained that the case was retaliation for Mitchell’s blowing the whistle on the doctor.

Laura Fletcher, a nurse and an optometrist in Bedford, said that “it’s a travesty of our judicial system that medical professionals are being prosecuted for doing their job according to the law.”

Nursing schools throughout the state have been using the case in their course studies with students, reminding them of the duty of every nurse to report possible wrongdoing.

The Texas code of ethics for nursing and the Texas Nursing Practices Act both say that it’s a nurse’s duty to report unsafe care, whether it’s from a doctor or a pharmacist who prescribes the wrong type of medications.

But the prosecution tried to prove that Mitchell used confidential information to try to harm Arafiles. The Texas Medical Board, however, told the county and district attorneys that complaints it receives are confidential and that under federal law the board is exempt from patient privacy laws.

The medical board has not made a final determination in its investigation of the complaint. Arafiles is still practicing medicine, Jordan said.

(This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.)


To see more of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.dfw.com.

Copyright © 2010, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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  • Joek_max50

    JoeKeller

    about 3 years ago

    52 comments

    Imagine the brain effect on the doctor who thought he could get away with everything. A doctor that can't admit his own mistakes when it comes to the benefit of patient's health, well, I wouldn't call that person a doctor.

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    DeborahWilliams

    over 3 years ago

    4 comments

    I was just reading something about how to take a correct breath test when I found your article here. I understand that there are privacy laws that need to be respected but the nurses here provided anonymous information but not saying who the patients were. I think that doctors need to learn from this event.

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    Account Removed

    almost 4 years ago

    I wish more nurses had the guts to do what these two RNs did. Many nurses are afraid to even report poor/dangerous practice of their nurse colleagues because they don't want to deal with the other person's backlash, but when a major incident occurs everybody becomes a part of the peanut gallery, relating the things they saw but didn't report!

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    AndreaERnurse

    about 4 years ago

    1438 comments

    wow

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    rcox1207

    about 4 years ago

    4 comments

    I've been an RN for 15 years and the nurses tend to eat there young, so to speak. Many of them attack each other instead of collaborating as professionals. If there was more of a team spirit, more people would be attracted to the profession. Yes, it,s true that some doc,s are evil or corrupted. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Look for the good and you'll find it and you'll likely attract better people in your life. I read this forum and was suprised that no one spoke of the good doctor, only broadcasted the bad (reminded me of the newspapers that only focus on what sells bad news)

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    rmowrey

    about 4 years ago

    4 comments

    people talk about the blue wall of silence with police, but the the white wall for doctors is even worse, for once the justice system worked. doctors are not infallible and there are bad doctors just as every profession has bad practioners. doctors who go unchecked harm everyone through higher malpractice rates and unnecessary medical bills.

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    josephszwed

    about 4 years ago

    2 comments

    two nurses as a result were fired.the doctor is still working. to give us closure, tell us what the nurses are doing for a living ,if anything.that would complete the story. will the nurses ever get compensated for the wrongs that were commited in this case? this story is an example of incomplete journalism.

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    walk6miles

    about 4 years ago

    4 comments

    When my issues are heard in the court somewhere in Florida, I will be able to hold my head up again. I all too well know what these two nurses went through and, I am so happy to see that justice was done. What most people (nurses) don't realize is the power that these reckless physicians have as a result of the unique type of bonding that exists it he "good old boys club "

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    khargisrn

    about 4 years ago

    8 comments

    THE DOCTORS KILL PATIENTS, NOT THE NURSES...................................................................

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    khargisrn

    about 4 years ago

    8 comments

    At this rate, I don't think I will go to Bedford, TX..and will let my agency know. Oh wait, if they read this, then they will be the first to tell. Nurses are seen as servants and shields for doctors; higher professionals are not the problem most of the time, its the nurses. Go figure......

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    khargisrn

    about 4 years ago

    8 comments

    + for all the nurses that are fired compared to the professionals=big loss for the hospital industry. Not many patients have a trial when doctors are backed by their attorneys. Not may victims find justice when it comes to the judicial system and making claims against their lawyers. A vicious cycle.....Shame, Shame,Shame!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    khargisrn

    about 4 years ago

    8 comments

    nurses are the front line for patient safety and care...The hospitals are the ones's who lose the money and they will defend any professional that makes the most money. Anne Mitchell, 'Thank you' for standing up and being a patient advocate...most nurses can feel your pain.

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    suzannefisher

    about 4 years ago

    40 comments

    I am shocked these nurses were fired, the hospital should be prosecuted!

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    Kkendall7221

    about 4 years ago

    4 comments

    It concerns me that the nurses were fired for performing their "DUTY" and I do not recall any mention of reconciliation for the hospital ignoring wistle blower protection. When I blew the wistle on multiple smokers for patient abandonment I was told I "could be fired for no reason" and was. So much for ETHICS.

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    wbkiehl

    about 4 years ago

    196 comments

    I've been trying to pay attention to this case and its eventual outcome, and am glad to see that everything has turned out okay for Anne Mitchell. The shame lies in that she had to go from pillar to post as she has. As seems to be common sentiment, I too hope she sues (especially the hospital) big time for all the Hell she has been put through. Hospitals need to see that we are much more than just "cost centers," "pill pushers," etc.

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