West Texas Nurse on Trial for Reporting Doctor
Anne Mitchell is a 53 year old nurse who lives and worked in west Texas. She is the wife of an oil field mechanic and mother of a teenage son, but it’s the simple act of writing a letter of complaint to the Texas Medical Board that has made her name known to the world. The act of writing that letter now has Mrs. Mitchell scheduled to stand trial in state court today for “misuse of official information,” a third-degree felony in Texas.
Nurses and doctors are encouraged to report unethical and dubious behavior about doctors to their state medical boards in an effort to keep patients safe. Key to this function is protection from retaliation for the reporting person (whistle blower).
After going through the chain of command at Winkler County Memorial Hospital, Mrs Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle wrote a letter to the Texas Medical Board mentioning six cases “of concern” that were identified by file numbers but not by patient names, as well as their concern of Dr. Rolando Arafiles misusing his professional influence to sell patients an herbal supplement.
The complaint was made anomalously. The whistle blower protection laws should have protected the women, but Dr. Arafiles used his local friend Winkler County Sheriff Robert L. Roberts to uncover their names. On July 15, 2009, the nurses were charged by the county attorney's office with "misuse of official information."
Charges against Vickilyn Galle were dismissed at the prosecutor’s discretion last week.
The Texas Nurses Association has responded by creating a legal defense fund for the Winkler County nurses (accessible on its Web site.)
The Texas Medical Board has sent a letter to the attorneys stating that it is improper to criminally prosecute people for raising complaints with the board; that the complaints were confidential and not subject to subpoena; that the board is exempt from federal HIPAA law; and that, on the contrary, the board depends on reporting from health care professionals to carry out its duty of protecting the public from improper practitioners.