Nurse faces jail-time for blowing whistle on doctor

A former administrative nurse at Winkler County Memorial Hospital in Kermit, Texas, will stand trial in Texas state court for a third-degree felony, "misuse of official information," after she wrote a letter to state regulators reporting what she believed was a physician's pattern of improper prescribing and surgical procedures.

The mistakes reported by Anne Mitchell included a failed emergency skin graft that the physician performed when he didn't have surgical privileges and the suturing of a rubber tip to a patient's crushed finger, a preventive remedy that the Texas Department of State Health Services later said was inappropriate, The New York Times reports.

Mitchell was identified as the person behind the anonymous letter after the physician, Rolando G. Arafiles Jr., complained to his friend and patient -- the county sheriff. The sheriff obtained a search warrant and located the letter on computers he seized from the nursing staff.

Prosecutors say Mitchell intended to damage Arafiles' reputation and had a history of making "inflammatory" statements against him. But the Mitchell believes it was her professional obligation to report the doctor.  Mitchell and a second nurse who helped write the letter were fired by the hospital without explanation. 

Mari E. Robinson, executive director of the Texas Medical Board, warns in a scathing letter to prosecutors that the case will have "a significant chilling effect" on the reporting of malpractice. Meanwhile, Mitchell's lawyers have filed a civil lawsuit in federal court charging the county, hospital, sheriff, doctor and prosecutor with vindictive prosecution and denial of the nurses' First Amendment rights, the Times reports.

Nursing associations have raised $40,000 for the nurse's defense. 

To learn more about the case

   - read the New York Times article
   - read a statement from the American Nurses Association