Just a few days ago – somewhat as a Johnny-come-lately it appears, I wrote about a nurse in Texas charged with a crime for reporting a doctor (anonymously) to a medical licensing board. The nurse, Anne Mitchell, was acquitted today after a 4 day trial. After digging out from under our second huge snow storm for most of the day, I finally had a chance to check the news and here it was - Anne Mitchell, Whistle-Blowing Nurse, Is Acquitted in Texas – NYTimes.com. And GOOD NEWS it is. The good people of Texas were able ot come to the right decision in less than an hour.
You may recall the story – Nurse Mitchell filed a complaint with the state medical board after she observed what she believed was unsafe medical practice by a physician at her hospital. Turns out the doctor had a patient and close friend – the local sheriff. Next thing Nurse Mitchell knew – she was facing criminal charges.
As we also reported, she and a fellow nurse (who had also been originally charged but against whom charges were dropped prior to trial) have filed a lawsuit against the doctor, the hospital, the prosecutor – anyone and everyone who had anything to do with the absurd prosecution. That’s apparently going to be the second round- more to come on that one.
The prosecution charged that they had violated the statute by using their positions to obtain and disseminate confidential information, namely patient file numbers, with intent to harm the doctor, Rolando G. Arafiles Jr.
This charge is a third degree felony under Texas law and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and a $10,000 fine.
Here’ s how the Times reporter, Kevin Sack, presented the arguments of the prosecution and the defense:
The prosecutor, Scott M. Tidwell, the county attorney, argued during the trial that Mrs. Mitchell had waged a vendetta to force Dr. Arafiles from the hospital almost since his arrival in April 2008.
But Mrs. Mitchell’s lawyers presented broad evidence that her concerns about the doctor were well-founded, and that she violated no laws or regulations by alerting the governmental body that licenses and regulates physicians.
The quote by her lawyer after the ‘not guilty’ verdict tells all you need to know if Nurse Mitchell intends to go forward with her civil lawsuit:
“We are glad that this phase of this ordeal has ended and that Anne has been restored to her liberty,” said Mrs. Mitchell’s lawyer, John H. Cook IV. “But there was great damage done in this case, and this does not make them whole.”
Good for her! If you think going through a criminal prosecution with possible jail time and a fine is not ‘an ordeal’ – try it some time. We’ll try to keep up on this story to let you know what happens with this civil lawsuit – why do I think I hear the word ”settlement” - maybe because that’s what those who are liable for this fiasco should do if they have any common sense (which is debatable).
Healthcare providers, who are concerned about patient safety, should not be silenced by the threat of prosecution when they take steps to correct what they perceive to be a lack of quality care. Nurse Mitchell should have been applauded for her action, not prosecuted. At least this evening – she can rest comfortably – and get ready for Round Two – hope she knocks them out!