Nurse Whistle-Blowers Pay Heavy Price For Doing the Right Thing

By hellosputnik, via Flickr

By hellosputnik, via Flickr

Late Friday afternoon I spoke with Clair Jordan, the executive director of the Texas Nurses Association. Jordan and others at the TNA have been working in support of two Texas nurse whistleblowers, Anne Mitchell and Vicki Galle, who in June were fired from their jobs, arrested, and indicted on third-degree–felony criminal charges, Jordan said. Mitchell and Galle had filed an anonymous complaint with the Texas Medical Board against a physician at their workplace, Winkler County Memorial Hospital, in Kermit, Texas. The nurses believed the physician to have acted in ways that jeopardized patient care; the complaint, in documenting examples of this care, identified patients by their case number. The physician complained; the local sheriff investigated; charges were filed; the nurses lost their jobs.

The charge, said Jordan “involves their use of inappropriate information of patients. They were asked to give something to the board to say why they thought the physician’s care was not best practice so the board could see their concerns.”

Barbara Olsen, a nurse blogging about health care safety at Florence dot com, writes: “In a healthy system, reports of concern about licensed professionals result in peer-review. In a sick system, reports of concern result in acts that punish those who raise them (and intimidate those who might consider raising similar concerns in the future).” Dozens of nurses have made similar comments at allnurses.com.

This took place in a state that has a whistleblower protection law; according to the American Nurses Association, that law protects nurses who report “a practitioner or a facility for exposing a patient to risk of harm due to a failure to conform to minimal professional standards.” Jordan says that on Wednesday of this week a second hearing will be held. She believes, she said, that the judge will determine whether to take the case to trial.

She also spoke poignantly about the irony of the harsh consequences for nurses trying to protect their patients. “I think it’s very sad,” she said. “To be advocating for a group of patients—advocacy that involves asking that the physician be reviewed by his peers—and to have criminal charges filed and then in turn to be fired. . . ”

Jordan said that these nurses need help paying their legal fees. Go to the Web site of the TNA to make a donation.

Joy Jacobson, managing editor
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2016-11-21T13:24:30+00:00 August 3rd, 2009|Ethics, Nursing|4 Comments

About the Author:

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

4 Comments

  1. susan mooney October 6, 2009 at 10:43 am

    I have been an rn for many years and feel I am a strong nurse advocate for my patients . I give you both a pat on the back for having the courage to come forward for something that you both witnessed was not in the best intrest of the patient. I cant imagine going through want I think you have gone through and I hope that you are acquitted on all charges.hopefully something positive will come from this terrible incident thatI am sure has disrupted lives, because a nurse was trying to do her job in a responsible manner. Shame to all law enforcement! You will relize how important nurse advocacy is when you have a loved one that needs medical care and you are relying on a nurse to explain what is happening and taking the time you need to give you reassurance and compassion.

  2. Ginny Lee, RN September 16, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Not only are they being prosecuted for sticking up for the patients, they are also being hounded for having the audacity to question a physician. But, that is our job!! In regards to that physician, he had his license, in Texas, disciplined for failing to supervisor those under him. Then, New York made him turn in his medical license with a promise that he will never apply for another license in the State of New York again. But, as much as we need to pull for these nurses, there was a nurse recently fired from a hospital in California for questioning patient safety. This has got to stop!!!

    http://www.calnurses.org/media-center/press-releases/2009/june/uc-irvine-to-fire-nurse-who-questioned-unsafe-patient-care-practices.html

  3. Red-Sky September 8, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    What a travesty. Nursing in management separate themselves from the sisterhood, and become watchdogs for the hierarchy of medical establishment that protect physicians and not nurses. At a time when the diversity of the nation continues to change and ill human being become victims (as in this case), the nurse, as always is their advocate first and foremost. I will be watching how Texas treats patient advocates.

  4. Gwendolyn Agbatekwe August 11, 2009 at 1:41 am

    Nurse activists from NNOC-Texas(National Nurses Organizing Committee) travelled to Kermit,TX to witness the pre-trial hearing on Wednesday, August 5, 2009 for these two registered nurses, Galle and Mitchell. We attempted to engage the press for a statement after the almost two-hour hearing, but in essence were deliberately ignored as we stood out conspicuously in our red titan-powered scrub tops that clearly outlined “National RN Day Of Action” in bold yellow. However, we were able to dialogue with the victims of this trumped-up criminal investigation which was described by their legal counsel as a “…presumption of vindictiveness…” given that the sheriff and physician in this case declared themselves as friends, former business associates, and at one time had a physician-patient relationship. It was apparent that the sheriff may have unwittingly violated some components of HIPPA law as he processed through his own investigation. The longer we sat in the courtroom, I reminisced on the television series Dukes of Hazard and Dallas and couldn’t believe that this was actual litigation.
    It is increasingly more clear that registered nurses must be at the forefront of patient advocacy and nurses’ rights in the place of employment. Whether issues of concern take place in a small county of 30 RNs, such as Winkler County(Kermit,TX); or in a fast-growing larger county such as Travis (Austin,TX) with 7,652 RNs, all nurses must be ready to take up the gauntlet and support other nurses in their campaign for good business practices.
    Registered nurses must take the reins of leadership for reforms with healthcare; insurance for all dependent and disabled children; care of our elderly society; and taking very good care of ourselves and future professional nurses. For every professional nurse in hospital management and administration, there should be a direct-care RN from the National Nurses Organizing Committee present to steer them in the right direction for best practice!
    The NNOC is a rapidly growing coalition of direct care registered nurses, more than 150,000 strong throughout the United States, standing up and speaking out for patient and nurse advocacy; nurse to patient ratios; and even more importantly, whistle-blower protection. Other hot topics include nurse recruitment, retention, education, and retirement pensions.

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