February 10, 2010 | | Comments 1
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Texas nurse faces jail time after reporting physician

It is a nurse’s duty to report any physician practicing bad medicine, but to Anne Mitchell, a former administrative nurse at Winkler County Memorial Hospital in Kermit, TX, it has turned into a career and life-altering journey.

Mitchell faces trial on February 15 at a state courthouse for the “misuse of official information.” She has been charged with a third-degree felony and faces 10 years in prison after she anonymously reported a physician to the Texas Medical Board in April 2009. As an administrative nurse, Mitchell felt obligated to report Rolando G. Arafiles Jr., MD, to hospital officials to protect the safety of her patients

Initially, Mitchell and a fellow colleague raised red flags about Arafiles within their own hospital, but had to direct their concern to a state medical board for fear of their concerns going unnoticed. Mitchell and her colleague wrote a letter documenting six different areas “of concern,” and directed the medical board to specific patient files using only the file numbers, while protecting the patients’ names.

Arafiles went to the Winkler County sheriff—a former patient of his—after being notified by the medical board of the anonymous complaints. After obtaining a search warrant, both Mitchell and her colleague had their work computers seized where the anonymous letter was uncovered. Later, in June 2009, both nurses were fired, despite being highly regarded by the administrator dismissing them.

Texas state and national nurses associations have come together and raised $40,000 to help Mitchell throughout the trial. In order to be convicted, the jury must believe Mitchell “used her position to disseminate confidential information for a ‘nongovernmental purpose’ with intent to harm to Dr. Arafiles.”

What are your thoughts on the situation? Do you think Mitchell was right in reporting the physician to officials? Would you encourage staff to do the same if they were in Mitchell’s shoes?


Source: The New York Times

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Sarah Kearns About the Author: Sarah is an Editorial Assistant in the patient safety group at HCPro, Inc. She contributes to two monthly newsletters; Briefings on the Joint Commission and Briefings on Patient Safety, and manages four e-zines; Accreditation Connection, AHAP Staff Challenge, Nurse Manager Weekly, and Healthcare Training Weekly. She also helps research new products for the patient safety and nursing market. She graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2008 where she earned her bachelor's degree in English.

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  1. Mitchell was absolutely in the right since her actions were the result of a sense of her own patient advocacy ethics. She protected the patient’s identity and followed the chain of command in an effort to have this doc investigated. If he had nothing to hide – it shouldn’t have been a problem. It’s unfortunate her own facility did not address the issue which forced her to seek another avenue. I also take issue with the county sheriff (who is a patient of the doctor in question) being involved in any way – this is clearly a conflict of interest. All healthcare professionals should be accountable for their care and physicians should not be immune to this standard. I am hoping RN’s all over the country band together to give this brave soul support. The idea of her facing jail time is ridiculous and shouldn’t even be considered. There are supposedly whistle-blower protection laws and I think she should sue her facility and the physician involved. Shame on the system.

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