A jury in Texas acquitted a nurse accused of carrying out a personal vendetta when she anonymously reported concerns about a physician to the state medical board, a case that drew shock and support from nurses across the country.
Anne Mitchell had been on trial since Monday in Andrews, Texas, on a charge of misusing government information. The letter to the medical board referenced specific patient files to support its descriptions of substandard care provided by a physician at the county-run, 15-bed Winkler (Texas) County Memorial Hospital.
Mitchell's lawyer, John Cook, said the jury deliberated for less than an hour.
“The next phase is to try to make her whole,” Cook said. The prosecutor last week dropped the charge against a second nurse, Vickilyn Galle
, who joined Mitchell in making the complaint and was likewise indicted. “Anne and Vicki have suffered terribly through this.” The nurses are seeking damages in a federal lawsuit pending against the sheriff, the county and district attorneys and the hospital. Both were terminated from their jobs and unable to find new work while facing the felony charge.
During the trial, Winkler County Attorney Scott Tidwell argued that Mitchell abused access to medical information in order to harass the doctor, Rolando Arafiles, and that the truth of her claims about the quality of care he provided was irrelevant. Cook countered that Mitchell's concerns were well-founded and that she had a professional duty to report them.
The medical board, meanwhile, has criticized the Winkler County officials for wielding the physician complaint as a basis for criminal prosecution, warning the episode could have a chilling effect. The board has yet to take any disciplinary action against Arafiles based on the letter received from Mitchell and Galle and declines to comment on investigations.
“If anything was to be gained from the absurdity of this criminal trial, it is the reaffirmation that a nurse's duty to advocate for the health and safety of patients supersedes all else,” Texas Nurses Association President Susy Sportsman said in a news release jointly issued with the American Nurses Association. ANA President Rebecca Patton said the jury delivered a message that “the freedom for nurses to report a physician's unsafe medical practices is nonnegotiable.” What do you think?
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