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West Texas Nurse Blows Whistle on Doctor: Is She the Victim or the Criminal? - Qui Tam Team

West Texas Nurse Blows Whistle on Doctor: Is She the Victim or the Criminal?

 

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In April 2009, Mitchell and co-worker Vickilyn Galle composed an anonymous letter to “inform state regulators that a doctor at [their] rural hospital was practicing bad medicine.”  By the following June, they were fingerprinted at the county jail on charges of “misuse of official information.”

Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles, Jr. was hired by the Winkler County Memorial Hospital in 2008.  Nurses filed internal complaints but the administration seems to have ignored the warning signs.  After a failed skin graft and the inappropriate suture of a rubber tip to a patient’s finger, Mitchell and Galle felt compelled to blow the whistle on Dr. Arafiles.  The letter included six cases that occurred within the hospital’s walls.  They also mentioned an herbal supplement Dr. Arafiles was selling on the side and trying to push through e-mail messages to patients. 

As soon as Dr. Arafiles was notified of this anonymous claim he ran straight over to the Sheriff’s office.  The Winkler County Sheriff happens to be a close friend of Dr. Arafiles and, after filing a harassment claim, was able to issue a warrant to search the nurses’ computers.  Upon discovering the letter and the specific patient file numbers included, a case was built against the two nurses for disclosing confidential information. The prosecutor wanted to show that Mitchell was known for making “inflammatory” statements in the past as well.  The prosecutor argued that state law required that reports of misconduct be made in good faith, and added that Mitchell had been “waging a vendetta” against Dr. Arafiles since his arrival at the hospital.

Mitchell felt that she had a professional obligation to protect her patients from patterns of improper prescribing and surgical procedures.  Galle was dismissed from the trial the week before it took place. 

With great relief, in only one hour, Anne Mitchell was acquitted of charges on February 11, 2010. The jury foreman said the panel of six men and six women questioned why Mitchell had ever been arrested.  “We just didn’t see the wrongdoing of sending the file numbers in, since she’s a nurse,” said the foreman, Harley D. Tyler. 

This trial did not end without consequence.  Health care workers and whistleblower advocates are concerned with the effect the trial may have on malpractice reporting.  Rebecca Patton, president of the American Nurses Association, stated, “The message the jury sent is clear: the freedom for nurses to report a physician’s unsafe medical practices is non-negotiable.”  Nurses and patients are urged to report any cases of malpractice without fear of repercussions. “It’s a duty to every nurse to take care of patients,” Mitchell stated as she wiped away her tears of liberation.

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