Anne Mitchell, the Texas nurse charged with "misuse of official information" after telling authorities about a physician's alleged improper prescribing and unsafe surgical procedures, was found not guilty by a Texas state court jury yesterday.
The verdict brings closure to a four-day trial that received national attention due the potential "chilling effect" it could have had on malpractice whistle blowing. Jurors hugged Mitchell after the verdict was read, according to news reports.
The American Nurses Association and the Texas Nurses Association said the verdict sends a clear message that "the freedom for nurses to report a physician's unsafe medical practices is non-negotiable." Still, the ANA "remains shocked and deeply disappointed that this sort of blatant retaliation was allowed to take place and reach the trial stage," said ANA President Rebecca Patton. "Nurse whistleblowers should never be fired and criminally charged for reporting questionable medical care."
Mitchell was charged with misuse of official information after she and another nurse, Vickilyn Galle, the hospital's quality improvement officer, reported their concerns about Dr. Rolando Arafiles Jr., to the Texas Medical Board. Arafiles and prosecutors said Mitchell was trying to deliberately damage the doctor's reputation.
But Mitchell said she was merely performing her duties as compliance officer at Winkler County Memorial Hospital.
"I would say to every nurse, if you witnessed bad care, you have a duty to your patient to report it, no matter the personal ramifications," Mitchell said. "This whole ordeal was really about patient care."