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Whistle-Blowing Nurse to Stand Trial for Reporting Doctor to Disciplinary Authorities

Posted Feb 8, 2010 1:01 PM CDT
By Molly McDonough

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In what the New York Times identifies as possibly an unprecedented prosecution, a former Texas nurse faces trial today on charges that she misused official information when she reported a doctor to state medical authorities.

The nurse, Anne Mitchell, reportedly considered she may lose her job as a result of the unsigned letter she wrote last April to the Texas Medical Board. But the Times reports that being indicted and threatened with 10 years in prison never crossed her mind. Misuse of official information charge is a third-degree felony in Texas.

The prosecution maintains that Mitchell had a history of making “inflammatory” statements about Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr. and that her goal was to damage his reputation when she reported the doctor to the state licensing and disciplinary board.

Mitchell, however, believed she had an obligation to protect patients from what she saw as a pattern of improper prescribing and surgical procedures. Among her complaints was that Arafiles performed a failed skin graft in an emergency room, where he didn't have surgical privileges, the Times reports. Another complaint—that the doctor sutured a rubber tip to a patient’s crushed finger for protection—was reportedly later deemed inappropriate by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Even though she wrote the letter anonymously, Arafiles complained about the letter to his friend and patient, the local sheriff. He then seized Mitchell's computer and discovered the letter.

A second nurse charged with helping Mitchell write the letter, was dismissed from the case last week.

According to the Times, the trial has so polarized the community that it's been moved to a neighboring county.

Both nurses have filed a federal civil lawsuit alleging that their rights to free speech and due process, as well as various whistle-blower protections, were violated by the doctor, the hospital, the sheriff and prosecutors, Modern Healthcare (reg. req.) reports.

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