Justice finally served for nurse whistleblowers

ODESSA, Texas - It looks like justice is finally being served against the real criminals in the Winkler County Nurses Case, according to a Jan. 13 report from the Odessa American.

Dr. Arafiles, the physician whom the nurses reported, was arrested in Dec. 2010, and indicted on the same charges previously used against the nurses. Stan Wiley, the hospital administrator who fired them, resigned and has also been indicted. Sheriff Roberts and Attorney Scott Tidwell, who filed the charges against the nurses, have now been indicted on felony charges of misuse of official information. A county prosecutor has not been charged, though it has been suggested that he had to have known the original charges against the nurses were false.

Nurses Anne Mitchell and Vicki Galle were fired and arrested in 2009 after they reported questionable practices by Dr. Arafiles at Winkler Memorial Hospital. Sheriff Roberts was a friend and business associate of the doctor.

The nurses reported Arafiles after making many complaints about improper medical procedures within the hospital. They documented his selling questionable supplements to patients in a business the doctor ran with the county sheriff.

The State of Texas substantiated the nurses' charges against Dr. Arafiles. Winkler County Hospital has been fined $15,850 for improper supervision of the physician.

As whistleblowers, identities of the nurses were supposed to be kept anonymous and protected by nurse reporting laws. In a separate civil suit, the nurses won $750,000 in damages. But ever since the nurses were tried and vindicated in 2009 they have been without work.

The Texas National Nurses organization and other national nurses organizations have been supportive in this case because, among other things, punishment for whistle blowing would have a chilling effect on the reporting of medical misconduct.

Now this case upholds the right as well as duty of a nurse to advocate for patient care. But laws protecting nurses who try to advocate for patient care need to be much stronger.

As a registered nurse, I admire the courage of Anne Mitchell and Vicki Galle. I too want to see stronger laws to protect from retaliation nurses who protect patients.

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