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Nurse Whistleblower Case Sets Dangerous Precedent

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, February 9, 2010

Both the ANA and the Texas Nurses Association have vigorously protested the prosecution and have been raising money for the nurse's legal defense. The ANA reports the Texas Medical Board has also protested the prosecution, complaining that it is improper to criminally prosecute someone for raising complaints with the board; that the complaints were confidential and not subject to subpoena; and that under federal law the Texas Medical Board is exempt from HIPAA.

The case sets a dangerous precedent for future whistleblowers. Now they'll risk their jobs and even prison time if they speak out. And it's a warning for healthcare leadership about handling complaints about physician or nurses. Caregivers must feel they can bring concerns to the appropriate people in their own organizations, and that cases will be investigated thoroughly and fairly. In light of the incident in Texas, hospitals should examine their policies to ensure concerns are properly addressed internally.

Meanwhile, Mitchell is being threatened with 10 years in prison for doing what she felt was right.


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Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits www.StrategiesForNurseManagers.com and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at rhendren@hcpro.com.

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