Texas Outrage: Payback for Whistleblowing Nurse
Anne Mitchell was a nurse at the Winkler County Memorial Hospital. Considering her professional credentials and ethical obligations, she saw a wrong and tried to right it. She saw a doctor at her hospital who, she felt, was performing sub-standard surgeries and improperly prescribing medication. She wasn't naive; the Texas medical community is a close-knit group and she knew that her complaint to the Texas Medical Board would have repercussions. Because of this, she complained to the Board anonymously.
But, she didn't count on the not-so-professional relationship between the county sheriff and the doctor in question. When the doctor, Rolando G. Arafiles, Jr. got wind of the complaint, he sought the assistance of his old friend, the sheriff. The sheriff investigated; he contacted patients listed in the anonymous letter of complaint, searched for clues of the letter origin, determined suspects, obtained search warrants for the top candidates in his "investigation", and found the letter of complaint on Mitchell's computer. And, all of this was done at taxpayer expense.
As a result of this "investigation", Mitchell and a second nurse (Vickilyn Galle) who assisted her, were fired; to add insult to injury, prosecutors filed felony charges ("misuse of official information") against them and a trial is ongoing. Mitchell, a longtime hospital employee, faces the possibility of 10 years in prison, if convicted. The complaint against Galle was dismissed at the discretion of the prosecutor.
This was not an isolated complaint; this doctor had a history of substandard performance. He performed a failed skin graft in the emergency room without surgical privileges. He also sutured a rubber finger tip to a patient’s crushed finger “for protection”; this surgery was cited as 'inappropriate' by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Several nurse associations have raised $40,000 for Mitchell's defense and have called her prosecution an "outrage". The medical community has been silent on the issue. Mitchell and Gille have filed a federal, civil, lawsuit seeking protection under whistle-blower statutes.
Lawsuit Financial's opinion? "Lawsuit Abuse" and "Tort Refom" have been the buzz words in the debate to limit a patient's right to recover when a physician commits an error that causes serious injury or death to that patient. By using terms like "frivolous", the anti-justice forces seek to limit recoveries in serious cases. This effort to deny patients their fundamental right to pursue litigation has been led by the medical and business community and by giant, multi-billion dollar insurance companies. This prosecution is an extension of that same effort. As the attached article says:
This case also is bound to have a chilling effect on the willingness of nurses to report doctors believed to be endangering patients. That is not good news.
"Delay, deny, confuse and refuse" have been the buzz words for insurance company behavior in litigation, by the American Association for Justice, a pro-citizen lawyers group. This case is an example of similar conduct; it is designed to make a whistleblower think twice before regarding negligent or dangerous conduct to authorities. The dangerous doctor continues his negligent conduct with impunity and the nurse who, in good faith, reported him is punished. Go figure. To my knowledge, Dr. Arafiles has yet not been investigated as the result of Mitchell's complaint. His past performance is, absolutely, a key issue to whether the complaint was filed in good faith or whether it was a "vendetta" as the prosecution alleges. This is a case of putting the cart before the horse; this prosecution is a blow to safety in the operating room and in the doctor's office. The easiest way to reduce the incidents of medical neglect or mistake is to prevent them before they happen. The unrestrained ability of a health care professional to report persistent neglect is a vital tool to prevent medical mistakes. Texas citizens should be outraged.
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