This just in from a report in the American Bar Association’s Law News Now – Prosecutors in Texas have charged a nurse, Anne Mitchell, with a third degree felony (which carries a 10 year prison sentence) for ‘misuse of official information’ when she anonymously reported a doctor for various acts, which she deemed dangerous to the patients he was treating.
The prosecution maintains that Mitchell had a history of making “inflammatory” statements about Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr. and that her goal was to damage his reputation when she reported the doctor to the state licensing and disciplinary board.
Mitchell, however, believed she had an obligation to protect patients from what she saw as a pattern of improper prescribing and surgical procedures. Among her complaints was that Arafiles performed a failed skin graft in an emergency room, where he didn’t have surgical privileges, the Times reports. Another complaint—that the doctor sutured a rubber tip to a patient’s crushed finger for protection—was reportedly later deemed inappropriate by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Bad blood or just bad medicine? Regardless – does Texas really believe they are serving some public interest by charging this nurse with a felony? Does this really send the right message to the medical personnel in our health institutions when they observe what they believe to be poor care and violations of patient safety?
This will be a most interesting matter to follow as well as the civil action being brought by Nurse Mitchell and a fellow nurse, Vickilyn Galle, who assisted Nurse Mitchell in writing the letter (charges were dropped against Galle last week), for violations of their rights to free speech and due process. This civil action by the nurses is being brought against the doctor, the hospital, the sheriff and prosecutors
One other sidebar note: Dr. Arafiles apparently complained about this letter to his friend and patient, the Winkler County sheriff.
Until they were fired without explanation on June 1, Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs. Galle had worked a combined 47 years at Winkler County Memorial Hospital here, most recently as its compliance and quality improvement officers.
According to the Times report, nursing associations – both national and state, have risen up in defense of what they called outrageous charges. These organizations have raised $40,000 for the defense of these charges.
Legal experts argue that in a civil context, Mrs. Mitchell would seem to be protected by Texas whistle-blower laws.
“To me, this is completely over the top,” said Louis A. Clark, president of the Government Accountability Project, a group that promotes the defense of whistle-blowers. “It seems really, really unique.”
See what you get for trying to hold people accountable for what you believe is bad medical care and for placing patient’s health and safety at risk? Hmmm…. sounds like lawyers representing plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases aren’t the only ones facing criticism (and now criminal charges) these days.
Good luck, Nurse Mitchell. Give ‘em hell!