Whistle-Blowing Nurse Acquitted in Texas

Anne Mitchell, a nurse from west Texas, was acquitted today for filing a complaint with the Texas Medical Board (TMB) alleging that a doctor she worked with was endangering his patients. Mitchell had filed an anonymous complaint that an emergency room physician, Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr., at the Winkler County Memorial Hospital, had been improperly prescribing medications and doing surgical procedures when he had no surgical privileges.

Rather than being recognized as a whiste-blower concerned about the health and welfare of the patients, she was actually arrested and charged with the crime of “misuse of official information,” which is a felony in Texas.

The trial took four days, but the jury needed less than an hour to acquit Nurse Mitchell.

Though this was a victory for a conscientious nurse, she has lost her job and her reputation has been damaged. The prosecution will tend to chill the efforts of others who are witnesses to medical mistakes.

Could this happen in Massachusetts? The Texas case appears to be unique, but there are other pressures brought on medical staff to look the other way when medical mistakes are made, and strict laws on so called “peer review” cloak investigations with nearly absolute privacy.

Boston medical malpractice attorney Marc Breakstone called the acquittal a victory for consumers everywhere. Breakstone pointed out, “Each year over 200,000 Americans are killed by medical malpractice and hospital infections. We need honest medical staff to bring these issues to light.”

He added, “We have seen a number of medical malpractice cases in which doctors and other medical providers have attempted to hide the facts by altering medical records, and are aware of other cases where records have been ‘lost.’ Sometimes the truth never comes out, other times the medical mistakes are revealed.”

Back in Texas Nurse Mitchell and another nurse who were fired are looking for justice. They want to clear their good names, and want compensation for this prosecution.

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Whistle-Blowing Nurse Is Acquitted in Texas, NY Times, Feb 11, 2010

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