Whistleblowing nurse Anne Mitchell acquitted in Texas

A jury in Andrews, Texas, has acquitted an experienced nurse of charges that she misused official information when she sent an anonymous letter to a state medical board to complain about a doctor’s malpractice.  Anne Mitchell had been a nurse at the Winkler County Memorial Hospital for 25 years. In April 2008, Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr. arrived. At the trial, other nurses confirmed that Mitchell had good grounds to be concerned about Dr. Arafiles’ malpractice, and the hospital administration had not done enough. The New York Times reports that the jury foreman questioned why Mitchell had ever been arrested. “We just didn’t see the wrongdoing of sending the file numbers in, since she’s a nurse,” Harley Tyler, a high school custodian, told the paper. Mrs. Mitchell, who did not testify in her defense, said after the verdict that she had been trying only to protect her patients. “It’s a duty to every nurse to take care of patients,” she said, after wiping away tears of relief. Rebecca Patton, president of the American Nurses Association, told the Times that the verdict is “a resounding win on behalf of patient safety.” Mitchell’s lawyer, John H. Cook IV, said “there was great damage done in this case, and this [acquittal] does not make them whole.” Cook has now filed a wrongful discharge case on behalf of Mitchell and her co-worker. This case is a good example of why whistleblowers need access to jury trials.  The jury could tell when the nurse was acting properly in reporting medical malpractice, even when the sheriff, the prosecutor and the judge could not.

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