By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief
You may not remember February 11, 2010, all that well, but it’s a date nurse Anne Mitchell will never forget. It was the date she was acquitted of all criminal charges in a case that garnered widespread coverage not only in the nursing world (see our October 2009 report) but in the general media (see the New York Times article). Mitchell was the Texas nurse criminally prosecuted for filing a complaint with the Texas Medical Board against a physician for unsafe and substandard practices (that board did agree with her). She and a colleague found themselves embroiled in a nightmare in which they were fired, arrested, and indicted. (Charges were eventually dismissed against Vicki Galle and only Mitchell went to trial.)
The case raised questions about a nurse’s professional and legal duty to safeguard patients—and about the strength of whistleblower protections (Texas has a whistleblower protection law).
In a “what goes around comes around” scenario, this past February those who pressed the charges—the sheriff (who was a patient, friend, and business partner of the physician); the Winkler County attorney; the former hospital administrator; and the physician—were all indicted by a grand jury. Ironically, the indictment was partially for misuse of official information, the same charge they had brought against the nurses.
On February 18, I interviewed Mitchell, Galle, and another colleague, Naomi Warren, who also wrote a letter of complaint accompanying their letter to the Texas Medical Board but wasn’t prosecuted. In the interview (you can listen to the two-part podcast on our Web site, on the podcast collection page called “Conversations.”) Their description of what this experience did to their lives is chilling. Even so, their commitment to their patients is unyielding, and they say they would make their complaint against the physician again without question.