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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.)


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Copyright © 2010, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas

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    raymoss1

    over 4 years ago

    220 comments

    My question is, if she would have reported a fellow nurse for any type of malpractice etc? Would she havebeen arrested? Probably no. I am glad that she was found not guilty. I hope she sues the hospital and wins big. What a sad case when a nurse does the right thing and is punished for it.

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    soosons

    over 4 years ago

    2 comments

    I knew a Doctor at Norwegian American Hospital that delivered babies to non-resident spanish women and would not discharge them until they gave between $500-$1,000 cash to him. They were so afraid that they all complied. It sickened me, repulsed me and made me so angry but he made alot of money for the hospital and the higher ups looked the other way. Unfortunately I have seen this at many different hospitals in my 13years as a floor nurse. Sometimes I have seen the arrogance of a doctor make a patient critically ill, changing his demeanor only after a huge wrongful death suit.

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    RenGurl1x

    over 4 years ago

    4 comments

    I worked at THE supposedly best hospital in Florida. Let me tell you, the doctors I worked with got / get kickbacks from drug companies all the time, every day. They lie to our patients, telling them that the research drugs (that they have a financial interest in or a patent on) would help them, cure them -on and on. One Doc I work with; every single patient who took his research drug- died within 6 months or sooner. There is no one alive from any of his studies, culminating from his 20 years of 'scientific research'. But he still gets funding and continues his studies. The hospital CEO's think he is a God, because of all of the money he brings to the insitution And he just got $450 million to continue his studies, from NIH. People in the research dept. have told me personally, that 'the numbers' are 'fudged' so the patients can 'qualify' for these studies. Why the IRB doesn't shut this program down, I do not know.

    Some patients reported to me personally they were talked into theses 'studies'- even though some of the drugs were never tested on people, only in lab rat models. The violations seen on a daily basis from my point of view were sickening, and ethically wrong, and everyone died a most disgustng, horrible death.

    Yes, doctors, do lie, to protect thier own ass. I was working in Chicago with one particular dirt bag- when we had to go before the Medicare board- I did testify that this man was (not) performing the procedures he billed medicare or public aid for. He got millions, under false pretense, and YES he is still in practice.

    I would absolutely sue this hospital, the doctor and the sheriff's dept. for collusion in trying to ruin a person's life- who IS doing thier job. Let's see; the violations were, retaliation, discrimination, slander, defamation of character, harrassment, wrongful termination, to name a few. This is a multimillion dollar lawsuit- I wish I was thier Lawyer.

    Doctors are not above the law, they think they are; maybe that is why so many of them are narcissists- they think they can do anything. I'm not saying all are bad, just that the 'few' make life hell for everyone else.

    We as nurses are just supposed to 'suck it up' in many of these corrupt institutions, that are supposedly 'monitored' by JHACO, and the like......We as nurses know that whenever any agency comes in for an inspection, the usual mess gets cleaned up- for the day. Then it is back to business as usual.

    Why is is that nurses have to take the fall for an unscrupulous physician or hospital mis-management; is it because we are not as educated- or they feel entitled.

    note to ALL Nurses; DO NOT be a slave to your master. Just because you are an employee, doesn't mean you get to get treated like shit, and like it. WE can get jobs anywhere on this planet and do not have to suffer the indignities; while we work our ass off- just to make it through the shift.
    Thank you for listening and I'll get off my soapbox, for now.

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    Account Removed

    over 4 years ago

    Nurses should be protected for doing what is right, and for protecting their patients. Unfortunantely many hospitals generally tend to side with their doctors.

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    WiseOldOwl

    over 4 years ago

    78 comments

    raymoss1 is absolutely right-this should NEVER have gone to court. Except that NOW, these 2 nurses who did the right thing morally and legally should sue the people who tried to put them in prison for violating their civil rights, harassment and whatever else their lawyer can think of. Money talks and a lawsuit from these 2 almost-victims of the 'system' would make the media and shine the light on the cockroaches who tried to ruin their lives. Semper Fi ladies!

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    Nurse_John

    over 4 years ago

    28262 comments

    She should file lawsuits against the hospital, the doctor, the sheriff and the state of Texas. All of them acted irresponsible in this situation especially the sheriff who was friends with the doctor. Nurses dfo most of the patient care, take all of the patients and families crap, work their butts off and are always the first accused of any wrong doing. I am glad she was acquitted and I do hope she takes legal action.

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    FydawgRN

    over 4 years ago

    36 comments

    Got told just the other day I should, "just play the game, and go with the flow." NO I WON'T! IF I DO THEN I BECOME PART OF THE PROBLEM!

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    Ichorica

    over 4 years ago

    2 comments

    Glad she was acquitted. How is it a problem that she was trying to do the correct thing and protect her patients? This is so backwards.

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    dotherightthing

    over 4 years ago

    4 comments

    Nurses are "expected" by law and their nursing standards of practice to report unsafe conditions, violations of public policy/institution policies and procedures, and Administration/HR/Executives for their violations of the above named areas. We're also to fight on behalf of our co-workers and to treat them with respect and support. However, because so many nurses know the system and are afraid of losing their jobs...what is considered "support" is considered to be "don't rock the boat." If a nurse does "rock the boat" and report they suddenly find themselves alone. Without the active support of other nurses aware of the "situations" it only sets the "whistleblower" up to lose his/her job and/or career. BUT, if all the nurses spoke up together in every facility, in every state, in every situation those "bullies" wouldn't have a chance.

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    hazeleyedtexan

    over 4 years ago

    6 comments

    This just shows still who has the power in the field of medicine. And it shows the "catch 22" in medicine. Nurses are expected to protect their patients and would be sued along with the doctor if something had happened because they DIDN'T report. And now they get a FELONY charge because they did report. How can we win???

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    WiseOldOwl

    over 4 years ago

    78 comments

    A jury with the 'true grit' to do the right thing!
    As we ALL know, even though whistleblowers are 'protected' by law, their lives become hellish if they try to stay and work in the area where the incident happened.
    It is NEVER easy to keep the faith and do the right thing but this old granny is PROUD of these 2 gals! I wish them well in whatever lies in the path before them.

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    louisa711

    over 4 years ago

    2 comments

    It's about time. Too often, Doctors lie, distort the truth, manipulate the system, destroy lives, and are not held accountable. it is high time the everyone listen to the nurse and not assume the docor is a god.

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    Nurseduc

    over 4 years ago

    2 comments

    Good for her. It is a disgrace that they would sue her for felony for making things right.

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    dotherightthing

    over 4 years ago

    4 comments

    I'm so happy for this nurse that she waa acquitted!! The truth is that most Hospitals don't even know their own states public policies well enough to defend themselves when and if employees report unsafe practices. They "bank" entirely on intimidation of employees and obscure writing of their Policies and Procedures. This is intentionally done so that by the time staff finishing reading them they really have no clue what their rights are. If they don't check at the Labor Board they're under the impression that their Managers and HR are telling them the truth, which more often than not they aren't. Human Resources, as a rule, are no longer there on behalf of the employees. They make more money than nurses do and are taught to support Managers and Administration.Their Corporate Compliance and Quality Assurance practices are only in place either to make everyone think they're in compliance/or that's their goal...OR...it's used as a way to lure whistleblowers to the surface and then find a reason to get rid of them before they are challenged further.
    Their needs to be a serious re-modification of the whisleblower laws to protect these brave individuals until their case can be heard. This is the main reason nurses don't speak out more often...they're afraid they'll lose their jobs and then will likely be blacklisted from working as a nurse...losing their career all together. president Obama says he'll get a lot of money back from increaseed efforts to get rid of Medicare Fraud. The likelihood of this happening without the professionls on the fronts lines reporting is slim to nothing. It's a crazy state of being that the individuals who are professional, good at their jobs, and have high ethical standards are the very ones that are often "bullied" and lose their jobs VS the individuals that are corrupt, lazy, and wiiling to violate their standards of practice any time it suits their needs. They get to keep their jobs...for a very long time. You want real Healthcare reform. Well, a good place to start is right here...on the front lines!!

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    mforeman

    over 4 years ago

    4 comments

    Congratulations to Anne for doing her professional best! and to the jury for believing it!

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