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Nursing Associations Applaud Verdict in Texas Whistleblower Case

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, February 12, 2010

State and national nurses associations are applauding a jury's quick verdict to acquit a Texas nurse of felony charges for reporting a physician to a state oversight board for allegedly providing unsafe patient care.

Anne Mitchell, RN, was charged with "misuse of official information," a third-degree felony, for reporting Rolando Arafiles, MD, to the Texas Medical Board. Had she been convicted, Mitchell could have faced up to 10 years in prison. However, after a four-day trial, a state jury in Andrews, TX, needed less than one hour to acquit Mitchell.

"We are very pleased about the not guilty verdict and that justice prevailed for Anne Mitchell," said Susy Sportsman, RN, president of Texas Nurses Association, in a media release. "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."

That sentiment was echoed by American Nurses Association President Rebecca M. Patton, RN, who feared that a guilty verdict would have had "a lasting and negative impact on future nurse whistle blowers."

"Nurses play a critical, duty-bound role in acting as patient safety watch guards in our nation's healthcare system. The message the jury sent is clear: the freedom for nurses to report a physician's unsafe medical practices is non-negotiable," Patton said.

"However, ANA remains shocked and deeply disappointed that this sort of blatant retaliation was allowed to take place and reach the trial stage—a different outcome could have endangered patient safety across the U.S., having a potential 'chilling effect' that would make nurses think twice before reporting shoddy medical practice," Patton said. "Nurse whistle blowers should never be fired and criminally charged for reporting questionable medical care."

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