Can a Nurse Go to Prison for Reporting a Doctor for Malpractice?

That question is now on trial in a small west Texas town, where a nurse stands accused of a felony for reporting a doctor whom she thought was guilty of malpractice on patients. Even if the nurse is acquitted, the case could have a chilling effect on nurses’ willingness to act as whistle blowers when they see sub-standard medical care.

The defendant, Anne Mitchell, R.N., was indicted for “misuse of official information,” a felony, because she reported to the state medical board her concerns about the quality of care delivered by Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr.

Nurse Mitchell worked in quality of care issues for the Winkler County Memorial Hospital where both she and Dr. Arafiles worked.

The case is being followed closely by the Texas Nurses Association, which raised money for the defense of Ms. Mitchell. Click here for case updates.

When the indictment was first reported last summer against Ms. Mitchell and a second nurse (whose charges were recently dropped by the local prosecutor), the American Nurses Association also spoke out strongly.

“ANA wants Winkler County to know the world is watching – we will be monitoring this case closely in the hope that the apparent abuse of prosecutorial discretion will be corrected,” said ANA President Rebecca M. Patton, MSN, RN, CNOR. “It is outrageous to file criminal felony charges against these nurses based on allegations that they raised concerns over a physician’s actions. This undermines one of the basic tenets of the nurse’s Code of Ethics – nurses have a duty to advocate for the health and safety of their patients, and that is what these nurses were doing.”

The New York Times detailed Ms. Mitchell’s concerns with Dr. Arafiles’ practices in a recent article by Kevin Sack, which also discusses the bigger picture for quality of medical care.

Nurses are traditionally seen as patient safety advocates. That role needs to be nourished, not threatened, for the sake of all patients.

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