A Texas jury took less than an hour Thursday to acquit a nurse who complained to the state medical board about the allegedly unsafe practices of a doctor.
Anne Mitchell was before an Andrews County jury facing a felony charge that could have sent her to prison for 10 years.
Mitchell was charged with “misuse of official information” after she filed an anonymous complaint against Dr. Rolando Arafiles with the Texas Medical Board.
Mitchell said the doctor had improperly encouraged patients to buy herbal medicines he sold on the side, and wanted to perform a procedure in a patient’s home using hospital supplies.
The doctor then filed a harassment complaint against her, reports the Associated Press.
Mitchell said that it was her duty to report doctors who are shortchanging patient care. “I still have to do those things for patients,” she said after the jury verdict.
Texas occupation code requires that a report from a nurse must be made in good faith with a reasonable belief the conduct reported is illegal.
The American Nurses Association reports that whistleblower protections for healthcare employees exist in 20 states, including Texas. That group and other organizations helped raise $40,000 for Mitchell’s defense.
Mitchell had no idea she would be fingerprinted and photographed at the jail last June when she wrote the letter.
“It was surreal,” said Mrs. Mitchell, 52, the wife of an oil field mechanic and mother of a teenage son. “I said how can this be? You can’t go to prison for doing the right thing” she told the New York Times.
The prosecutor had planned to show that Ms. Mitchell made inflammatory statements about the doctor to damage his reputation. But she said she had a professional obligation to protect patients after she witnessed Dr. Arafiles perform a failed skin graft without surgical privileges, and sew a rubber tip to a patient’s finger after it had been crushed. The Times reports that was later flagged as inappropriate by the state.
Dr. Arafiles had complained about Mitchell to the Winkler County sheriff, who had been a patient of the doctor, crediting him with saving his life after a heart attack and calling Dr. Arafiles, “the most sincerely caring person I have ever met.”
Mitchell and another nurse had been fired without explanation last June after a combined 47 years at the Winkler County Memorial Hospital in rural west Texas, 10 miles from the New Mexico border.
Both say their reputations are tarnished and their savings drained.
The nurses’ lawyers have filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against the hospital, sheriff, doctor, and prosecutor, charging them with vindictive prosecution and denial of the women’s First Amendment rights.
Dr. Arafiles says he’s the victim in the case. The hospital administrator tells the Times that the doctor had been reprimanded on several occasions for improperly writing prescriptions and performing surgery. #