Update: After four days, the nurse was acquitted.
Knowing about this crazy trial that starts today in Texas won’t directly help you find a better doctor or get better health care, but it might give you some insight into why it’s important to protect whistleblowers from people in power. In this case, a nurse in a small West Texas town is being prosecuted for “misuse of official information” and faces up to 10 years in prison, writes Kevin Sack at the New York Times, because she reported a doctor to the Texas Medical Board after feeling the hospital was too slow to take action.
The nurse, Anne Mitchell, says she’s been trained to protect patients and sound the alarm if she sees anything unprofessional. In her complaint letter, she cited a failed skin graft that the doctor performed in the emergency room without surgical priveleges, and the fact that he sutured a rubber tip to a patient’s finger.
It was not long after the public hospital hired Dr. Arafiles in 2008 that the nurses said they began to worry. They sounded internal alarms but felt they were not being heeded by administrators.
Frustrated and fearing for patients, they directed the medical board to six cases “of concern” that were identified by file numbers but not by patient names. The letter also mentioned that Dr. Arafiles was sending e-mail messages to patients about an herbal supplement he sold on the side.
Another nurse was also charged, but those charges were dropped last week.
The hospital administrator where Mitchell and Arafiles worked says she should have let them sort things out, and that by going over his head she acted in bad faith. The county sherrif–who has held his office for 18 years and is identified as a former patient and friend of the doctor–says Mitchell is trying to ruin a good man’s name. State investigators say otherwise, and they wrote up the hospital last fall for firing Mitchell and the other nurse.
“Nurse to Stand Trial for Reporting Doctor” [New York Times]