Several months ago I wrote about the case of two Texas nurses who were criminally prosecuted for blowing the whistle on a doctor they suspected of providing improper medical treatment. That case certainly raised my concerns about the state of patient safety, particularly since these two nurses were trying to keep medical malpractice from occurring at the hospital where they worked.
The case began at the beginning of February 2010 against Anne Mitchell (the charges were dropped against the other nurse, Vickilyn Gail, shortly before the trial commenced), an administrative nurse at the Winkler County Memorial Hospital. Anne assumed she was simply upholding her professional obligation when she blew the whistle on a doctor at the hospital whom she felt was improperly prescribing medications and performing bad surgeries. Indeed, Doctor Rolando G. Arafiles Jr. had a history of inappropriate behavior. In fact, he performed a failed skin graft in the emergency room without surgical privileges. Furthermore, he also sutured a rubber fingertip to a patient’s crushed finger “for protection”, a move that was later flagged as inappropriate by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Nevertheless, Dr. Arafiles complained to the Winkler County sheriff who obtained search warrant and seized Anne’s computer, where the complaint letter against Dr. Arafiles was saved. Subsequently, Anne was accused of “misuse of official information”, a third-degree felony her state with a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Thankfully, Anne was acquitted shortly after the trial began and the two nurses recently agreed to split a $750,000 payment from Winkler County, Texas to settle the lawsuit they filed after they were prosecuted. Their lawsuit, which was filed in federal court, asserted that they had been subjected to vindictive prosecution and denied their First Amendment rights. In addition, state and national nursing associations warned of the chilling effect of the prosecution of the two nurses on the reporting of medical misconduct.