Whistleblower Nurse Acquitted

The West Texas nurse who went on trial this past Monday for reporting a doctor to the state board was found not guilty after just an hour of deliberation, reports the New York Times. The jurors who spoke to the Times after the case said it seemed pretty cut and dried to them. Now the nurse’s lawyers are focusing on their civil lawsuit against the county, the sherrif, the county attorney–who is described in the article as the surgeon’s personal attorney as well–and the hospital administrator who fired the nurse for going over his head. Hooray for whistleblowers!

“Whistle-Blowing Nurse Is Acquitted in Texas” [New York Times]

RELATED
Anne Mitchell Civil Suit (PDF) [Casewatch.org]

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  1. nerdychaz says:

    I love it when the good guy wins. Malpractice is such a big problem in this country and people rarely speak out about it. I am glad that something positive is being done

    • AnonyMouse says:

      I think that malpractice is spoken out about plenty in this country, however it’s done by the wrong people. To have an “industry insider” blow the whistle is fantastic, especially if their intentions are altruistic. A lot of medical personnel would look the other way or not hold a “superior” to the oath that they took when starting to practice medicine. Besides which, nursing is such an under-appreciated profession, I hope she gets paid out big!

    • DoktorGoku says:

      Doctor (Gen/Trauma Surgeon, specifically) here.

      People speak out about malpractice plenty.

      As AnonyMouse states, however, it’s done by the wrong people. It’s a running joke/fact of our lives that people will sue because they don’t like the outcome, whereas when mistakes are made, or even when intentional negligence occurs, so many patients will just let it go when they shouldn’t.

      I work to educate my patients about what is and isn’t acceptable, but the whole situation has me shaking my head. It’s completely backwards.

      • mythago says:

        Your comment unintentionally shows a big reason this is such an institutional problem.

        Mistakes “are made”. Intentional negligence “occurs”. Nobody’s responsible in this phrasing; things just kinda happen. It would be correct to say “doctors make mistakes” or “nurses make mistakes”, yet that so rarely happens. (By the way there’s no such thing as ‘intentional negligence’.)

        And the refusal to accept blame and cover-ups is exactly why people who get hurt don’t sue. You all make sure they can’t.

      • ChemicallyInert says:

        Please provide me with your name, your specialty, and the hospital you work at. I just want to know who I don’t want treating me when I have a problem. I prefer for my doctor to take responsibility for his or her actions- not talk about “mistakes”. Mistakes are still made by people who are ultimately responsible for them. I don’t mean to hit cars when I pull out of a parking spot. Hell, I might be paying attention- just maybe a little to much to what’s behind me and not enough to the front as I’m turning out. It’s not that I’m careless- it’s a mistake, an accident, a boo-boo- I really don’t care what you call it. I’m still responsible, and I have to leave my insurance information with the owner of the car I hit.

        When I’m working in the lab, I’m in a hazardous environment. If I’m not careful pulling t-butyl lithium or even just using a hot-plate I could kill myself- never mind others. Honest mistakes don’t undo irrevocable actions. The problem with your attitude perhaps stems from the fact that you don’t share in the hazard* you pose to your patients. We sued the doctor that failed my grandmother, and both her sons are doctors who understand their obligations to the patient.

        *Hazard being distinct from danger. Surgery is hazardous, but not necessarily dangerous in the hands of a competent surgeon.

      • ChemicallyInert says:

        Holy crap. I COMPLETELY misread your comment. My bad. I take back the stuff about you sucking as a doctor.

        *Sigh*. Sorry. Reading comprehension fail on my part. Nothing to see here folks.

  2. Difdi says:

    I was amazed she was charged at all. I mean, she did exactly what the law says she should, reported only to the organization she should (it’s not like she took out an ad in the newspaper), and was completely truthful.

    • myrna_minkoff says:

      She even carefully avoided disclosing any personally identifiable info on the patients (she gave the board file numbers, but not patient names, etc.) From what I can tell, she did everything absolutely 100% correctly and professionally.

      So glad she was acquitted. Hope she wins her federal case against these charlatans.

  3. Sorta Kinda Lucky Soul says:

    It’s nice to hear when the system actually works the way it should. I hope she has success in her civil suit — maybe it’ll make other hospitals think twice before they try to hide incompetence.

  4. Tom Servo says:

    Awesome news!

  5. Megalomania says:

    I hope she wins against the sheriff, prosecutor, and the administrator, but not against the county itself (or the hospital if they go that route too). It’s not the institutions that are bad, but the people in them, and taking taxpayer money won’t solve anything. Bravo to the jury seeing through these inane shenanigans though.

    • Emperor Norton I says:

      No, the county itself needs to be sued because the county’s elected leadership should have quietly told both the sheriff & prosecutor that they were totally wrong & exposing the county to tremendous financial penalties.
      This is what happens when elected officials are cowards & refuse to act like sensible adults!

    • dougp26364 says:

      In case you didn’t notice, the hospital hung this nurse out to dry without even blinking an eye. Rather than take the complaints inside their organization seriously and doing something about this doctor themselves, they forced the nurse to go outside their system to try to get something done about improper care. When she did, the fired her and appear to have been protecting the doctor. Remember, doctors bring patients into the hospital and thus bring income into the hospital. In many hospital’s eyes, nurses only cost money and do not produce revenue.

      I disagree and feel the hospital’s decision to back the doctor and hang the nurse should be punished and punished hard. Their should be a cost associated with ignoring complaints of unsafe practice and then terminating an employee, even when that concern has a strong foundation. Preforming surgery without privledges should have been enough to terminate this physicians privledges or, at the very least, suspending him for a good long time.

    • PsiCop says:

      First, the hospital basically threw her to the wolves, as it were. They deserve everything they get, and more. The hospital administrator basically averred with the charges against the nurse … even though he surely knew she hadn’t done anything wrong.

      Second, the people of Winkler county elected two officials, the sheriff and the district attorney, who have now shown themselves corrupt. Unless they take immediate action to have them removed from office, then they will be complicit in what was done to Ms Mitchell.

      I’m aware this is a relatively harsh philosophy, but corruption rarely happens in a vacuum … and this is doubly true in a relatively small county like Winkler. Corruption and official misbehavior cannot be tolerated … anywhere … by anyone … and any degree of knowledge creates culpability.

      The people of Winkler county now have a choice to make. Will they make the right one?

    • CreekDog says:

      Well she’s without a job for doing the right thing. If the county’s employees were responsible for that, well then the county should pay as well.

      It’s not like acquitting her makes it all better.

      She’s without a job.
      She may be out of her profession for good.
      It appears she had to move.
      She spent tons of money on an attorney to defend against bogus charges.

      Too late for making nice at no cost.

    • ChemicallyInert says:

      When will people understand that companies and institutions are legally liable for the actions of their employees- and with good reason?

      You don’t want companies using plausible deniability as a defense for policy and at the end of the day they are responsible for the selection and retention of the incompetent employees who are place in a position where they are capable of harming the plaintiff. This is the only way the law makes sense- otherwise you could never sue a company for anything- since it must follow that the employee shoulders the burden of conscience for working there.

  6. masso says:

    Yay, but honestly, do they actually think they can win against her? I really seemed clear cut to me also.

    • mythago says:

      I suspect they feared if they dropped the charges at that point, it would bolster the civil suit and prove it really was malicious prosecution/intimidation. Going forward with the trial gave them the faint hope of proving that they really did believe their own BS.

  7. Heresy Of Truth says:

    Yes! As a nurse, I am so damn happy to hear this. The sheriff, the attorney, the doc, and the hospital admins were so out of line it’s crazy.

    • Dutchess says:

      The Sherrif, the Doctor and the hospital sound a little bit too much like the “good old Boy’s” network. Each watching out for their own without the regard for the nurse who stood up and did the right thing and the patients who could be harmed by this apparent quack and the hospital that looks the other way.

      • oldwiz65 says:

        And just think of the malpractice lawsuit against the doctor and the hospital brought by patients who were injured by the quack. Hospitals have, unfortunately, become institutions for PROFIT, not patient care. It used to be that patient care was the number one priority for doctors and hospitals, but now its probably number 3 o 4.

      • Bohemian says:

        It is very much the good old boys network. From the articles I read leading up to the trial the Sheriff is buddies with this doctor and the Sheriff took action solely based on the doctor’s complaints. The DA and the Sheriff should have known better so they are either incompetent or corrupt, possibly both. Those three and the hospital need to be hung out to dry so this kind of thing will stop. This whole thing was a big abuse of power and nothing more than retaliation.

  8. HighontheHill says:

    Nice!! One down and three to go. Heads should (figuratively) roll.

  9. KyleOrton says:

    Unfortunately, no one is able to locate her and the dirt floor of the county jail looks freshly disturbed.

    Nevermind, that’s Tennessee.

  10. SecretAgentWoman says:

    Funny, this story is here and in the NYT, but I can’t find it in my local Texas news site…that ticks me off.

    • mrscoach says:

      Try the Odessa American site at oaoa.com, they cover Kermit. We have heard about this for what seems like forever.

      Here’s the link to the local article: http://www.oaoa.com/news/nurse-42926-trial-county.html

      The trial was actually in Andrews, a nearby town. Maybe the county seat, not sure. I don’t think Kermit is big enough for a courthouse.

      • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

        Kermit is the county seat for Winkler County.
        Andrews is 45 miles northeast and the county seat for Andrews County.

        “The prosecution has so polarized the small town of Kermit, where the hospital is located, that the judge moved the trial to a neighboring county.”

  11. dougp26364 says:

    I hope the hospital gets nailed hard for ignoring the nurses concerns and then hanging her out to dry when she furthered her concerns to the proper governing body. In the medical world, when you get fired for cause it can be tough to get another job without relocating. Even then hospitals are likely to shy away from her as she’s now labled a “trouble maker.” Hospital admin. wants to do what they want to do without anyone questioning how they do it.

  12. mrscoach says:

    The article doesn’t seem to bring up the fact that the Dr. went to the sheriff because he was upset for being turned in to the state board, and they investigated the letter and traced it back to the nurse. Why was it a matter for the sheriff? It wasn’t, the doctor just wanted to know who turned him in and retaliate.

    It was only later that the fact that patient numbers were given to the state was made an issue.

    • Dutchess says:

      That’s the whole point that irritates the hell out of me in this story.

      The Doctor and the Sherrif were basically friends. They had a doctor patient relationship and the sherrif said he “admired” this doctor.

      This is a clear case where the Sherrif allowed his personal feelings cloud his professional judgment.

    • myrna_minkoff says:

      The doctor claimed the report to the board was part of a pattern of harassment. Hence the investigation.

      Note: I realize this is a total B.S. claim, but that was the logic the doctor/sheriff used. I’m not condoning it, believe me.

  13. italianbaby says:

    hooray for her…

  14. Dutchess says:

    Sherrif Robert J Roberts needs to be brought up on charges for malicious prosecution. I’m glad to see this member of the good old boys club didn’t win in his attempts to silence someone doing their job.

    He was “long time friend and patient” of the Doctor in question and these charges were an abuse of power on his part.

    After hearin the verdict he had the gaul to say about reporting violations that “I encourage public servents to report [viloations] properly”. How about taking a good look in the mirror Sherrif Roberts, when you have case involving a friend you should recuse yourself.

  15. H3ion says:

    The fact that the Sheriff and the prosecutor, both of whom were patients of the doctor, weren’t disqualified for conflict is mind blowing. Is that what passes for justice in west Texas? I wouldn’t be surprised if a complaint to the Texas State Bar as to the prosecutor and to whatever governs law enforcement in Texas wouldn’t result in some relief for the nurse, or at least shine a light on these shenanigans.

    • calchip says:

      If you read any of Molly Ivins books, she would answer “Yes, this is what constitutes justice in Texas.” Molly was an amazing political commentator/humorist who spent much of her life writing about the wacky (and wlidly corrupt) goings-on in Texas. Some of the stories in her book “Molly Ivins can’t say that, can she” would make your head spin, and are right in line with the cronyism involved in this story.

    • NickelMD says:

      The problem is that in very small towns there may be only one doctor, one sheriff, and one attorney. This is only added to by the fact that you often can’t attract the highest quality of any of these professionals to a small town.

  16. Mknzybsofh says:

    This makes me so happy. I worked as a CNA for 2 years. In that time I wanted to punch a few dr’s for the IDIOT comments/mistakes/actions that they took against the patents, nurses and even the administration at times. They think that they are the know all and be all. There are a number of VERY good Dr’s out there, however there are also a number of stupid ones as well.
    This was a great win for nurses the world over. They are stuck between the Dr’s, patients and administration with no outlet for a great number of the indecencies that are heaped on them when it is not their fault. No one backs them up.

  17. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    Thank God.

    That is all.

  18. meghann_marco_is_meow says:

    Wow, this doctor is %@cking moron! I submit to you, Exhibit A (just wanted to use legal-speak):

    http://www.cbs7kosa.com/news/details.asp?ID=17843

    “At one point Dr. Arafiles was asked whether diabetic patients might have a tendency to heal worse than patients without diabetes. To the dismay of the audience, he said no, that there is no difference.”

    • mythago says:

      I like the part about how the doctor and sheriff were golf buddies and involved in some kind of ‘health juice’ marketing scheme. Yeah, good luck fighting off that civil suit, assholes.

  19. Cycledoc says:

    Texas does have a different way of thinking.

    • chargernj says:

      What do you expect? The state was founded by a bunch of American slave holders who moved to Texas. When the Mexican government told them they couldn’t have slaves any more they revolted.

      Ever since Texans have decided that rules they don’t like don’t apply to them

  20. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    OT – a photo of the Sheriff & the rues for visiting inmates at the Winkler County Jail:

    http://www.co.winkler.tx.us/wcso.htm

    Rules of Visitation
    Can Have:
    Money (Cash or Money Order ONLY!) no personal checks
    1 Bible
    Females may have underwear as long as there are no wires

    Cannot Have: Anything that is not listed above

  21. 7geez says:

    Good for her! We need more courageous people willing to do the right thing in this world!

  22. NickelMD says:

    Now the real fun begins. The civil suit will generate some green for the nurses (and coincidentally their attorneys) and that is like throwing chum into shark infested waters.

    I need some popcorn and jujubees. Keep us posted Consumerist!

  23. Soeken says:

    This case represents the present state of affairs in health care industry whistle blowing. When someone attempts to blow the whistle they are rewarded with demotion, firing and now may be charged with a felony. I have worked as an expert witness for whistleblowers for over 30 years and I see the retaliation getting worse and the whistleblower protection laws are not being enforced. Whistleblowers lose their reputations and their careers trying to uphold the ethics of their profession. All governments and corporations have “Codes of Ethics” but when challenged by the whistleblower the management attempts to ” Kill the Messenger”.

  24. P_Smith says:

    For some, the talk in the US about praising whistleblowers is just that – talk. In reality, many see whistleblowers as “rats” who should keep their mouth shut. For many, “doing the right thing” is turning a blind eye and going along with the program, and that those who rock the boat are “traitors”.

    Just ask Joe Darby.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Darby

    The worst part is, these women have been unable to work and likely will never be able to again at the same level. Even though they did the ethical thing, their reputations will be tainted, not the quack’s. Here’s hoping they can successfully sue the state, doctor, hospital, sheriff, district attorney and whoever the hell else took part in the phony charges.

  25. baristabrawl says:

    Qui Tam! Holla!

  26. biggeek says:

    I’d like to see Dr. Rolando Arafiles’ license to practice medicine pulled.