Posts Tagged ‘whistleblower’

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When Patient Safety Trumps All: Conversations With the Texas Whistleblower Nurses

February 25, 2011
Map of USA with Texas highlighted

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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.

I hope nursing faculty will highlight this case and these courageous nurses to their students.

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The Real Criminals Here: Justice is Served in Winkler County, Texas, Whistleblower Case

January 17, 2011
Map of USA with Texas highlighted

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By Maureen ‘Shawn’ Kennedy, AJN editor in chief

On January 13, news from Texas let nurses everywhere take heart that, sometimes, the system works. According to a report by the Odessa American, the Winkler County, Texas, officials, Sheriff Robert Roberts and attorney Scott Tidwell, who had filed charges against whistleblower nurses Anne Mitchell and Vicki Galle, have been indicted on felony charges of misuse of official information. The hospital administrator who fired the two nurses, Stan Wiley, was also indicted. For more on the story, which we’ve kept a close eye on since October 2009 in our news reports and on this blog, see this ABC World News article; the Texas Nurses Association also has an archive of the case.

In a separate civil suit against the county, Mitchell and Galle were awarded $750,000. Very excellent.

Why is this so exciting and significant? The case outcome supports nurses who raise concerns about unsafe patient care and upholds the nurse’s right—duty, really—to advocate for patients. Hopefully, the nurses’ victory and the award from the civil suit will give pause to those who think they can intimidate nurses who are acting on good conscience and within legal and ethical boundaries.

Kudos to the courts for realizing who the real criminals are.

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Nurses Under Fire: Cleared in Texas, Embattled in California

February 16, 2010

By Shawn Kennedy, interim editor-in-chief

By now you’ve probably heard that last Thursday Anne Mitchell, the Texas nurse who found herself fired from her job and on trial after reporting a physician for what she felt was poor medical practice (see our report in the October 2009 issue) was found not guilty (her colleague, Vicki Galle, had her case dismissed prior to trial). It only took the jury about an hour to exonerate Mitchell of criminal charges and uphold her right to advocate for patients. (Day-by-day reports from the trial were made available on the Texas Nurses Association  (TNA) Web site.)

The case garnered national attention—at its core was a nurse’s right (duty, really) to safeguard patients in her or his care. It seemed a no-brainer, and almost incredible that the case even came to trial. Last Friday, I spoke with TNA president Susan Sportsman, PhD, RN, who agreed, saying she was surprised the case went forward, especially after the state medical board agreed that what the nurses did was appropriate. Sportsman said, “This is the role of nurses—it’s required that we report what we see to safeguard patients. This nurse was just doing her job, what she was supposed to do.”

Like nurses everywhere, Sportsman was “delighted and ecstatic” about the verdict. Sportsman noted a guilty verdict would have discouraged nurses and others from coming forward about poor care out of fear of losing their jobs and facing prosecution.  Perhaps more chilling would be the result that nurses would be powerless and without support to protect patients from unsafe care. (See JParadisi’s excellent piece on this on her blog.)

Nurses seem to be coming under fire lately—witness the lawsuit California anesthesiologists have filed against their governor. According to the petition (available on the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists’ Web site), the anesthesiologists charge that, in following Medicare policy allowing a state to “opt out” of the physician supervision requirement, the governor is acting outside of California law in allowing nurse anesthetists to practice without physician supervision. It’s another case that bears watching (and rallying!) by all nurses, not just CRNAs. Nurses have a right to practice within the scope allowed under the law and for which they are qualified; a challenge to one nursing group should be a challenge to all of us.

What’s your take on these issues? Will the Mitchell case (despite the verdict in her favor) discourage potential whistle-blowers among nurses? And should physician groups really be attempting to restrict nurses’ scope of practice?

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Will Texas Nurse Whistle-blower Case Have Dangerous Ripple Effect?

February 7, 2010

KERMIT, Tex. — It occurred to Anne Mitchell as she was writing the letter that she might lose her job, which is why she chose not to sign it. But it was beyond her conception that she would be indicted and threatened with 10 years in prison for doing what she knew a nurse must: inform state regulators that a doctor at her rural hospital was practicing bad medicine.

That’s from an article in today’s New York Times about a Texas nurse who’s being prosecuted for blowing the whistle on what she asserts were inappropriate medical practices by a doctor she worked with. We’ve posted on this as the case has developed and also written about it in the journal. Ultimately, the judgment is up to the court. But the concern we’ve expressed and which others have also voiced is that this will have the effect of silencing others who should be speaking out. In the process it may well reinforce old nurse–physician dynamics that profit no one. What do you think?

UPDATE: She was acquitted today (February 11)!Bookmark and Share

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