“Winkler County nurses” win another victory

The American Nurses Association hailed a new victory for two whistle-blower nurses from Winkler County, Texas - Vicki Galle and Anne Mitchell - with the conviction this week of County Sheriff Robert Roberts.

This case became known nationally after the two long-time registered nurses at Winkler County Hospital in Kermit, Texas, reported to the Texas Medical Board in 2009 about serious misconduct, substandard care and an inappropriate business partnership between Sheriff Robert Roberts and a hospital physician, Dr. Rolando Arafiles Jr.

Normally after such a report an investigation takes place and the complainants' names are kept confidential. However in this case, the sheriff used his position to confiscate the nurses' computers, finding their letter to the medical board. The hospital then fired the nurses, whose names were now public, and the nurses were charged with "official misuse of information," which could have resulted in 10 years of imprisonment and fines.

Nurses all over the country voiced support for their right to be protected as "whistle-blowers". The Texas Nurses Association supported them and nurses sent thousands of dollars to support their defense.

American Nurses Association President Karen A. Daley, in the online bulletin Nursing Insider, said, "The public trusts nurses to be their advocates and nurses are legally bound to protect patients and their quality of care."

"Safe harbor" laws allow nurses to report serious misconduct or patient care concerns anonymously so that charges may be investigated without reprisal or being fired.  If nurses are scared to report concerns about physicians, they say, the public is in danger.

At the nurses' trial in 2010 the charges against Galle were dropped and Mitchell was acquitted.

Subsequently charges were filed against Dr. Arafiles, Sheriff Roberts, County Attorney Scott Tidwell, and the Winkler County Hospital. The charges included the same "misuse of information" that the hospital had initially charged the nurses with. But Dr. Arafiles was charged with several counts relating to unsafe patient care, violating the Medical Patient Care Act, and his business dealings with Sheriff Roberts, selling patients questionable health supplements. Another charge of "witness intimidation" was leveled against Sheriff Roberts who helped to identify the two nurses.

On June 14 Sheriff Roberts  was convicted by a jury after only two hours of deliberation. He was sentenced to four years of felony probation, 100 days in jail and a $6,000 fine. He must surrender his "peace officer" license. The others who have been indicted, Dr. Arafiles and County Attorney Tidwell, await trial.

The hospital has already been fined $15,850 for improper supervision of the physician.

Protection of nurses and reporting laws are widely seen as of great importance for both nurses and patient safety. The new Affordable Health Care Act allows not only nurses but other health care personnel such as nurses' aides to report misconduct and unsafe conditions. The National Nurses Union has also taken up the issue of unsafe staffing conditions that seriously affect safe patient care.

As of last report the two Winkler County nurses have been out of work since the beginning of the case in 2009.

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  • The nurses tried to go through channels in the hospital without any investigation of their specific enumerated unsafe practices endangering the lives of specific patients. The case became complicated because the doctor, attorney, hospital administrator sheriff and others were in an awful collusion to cover up the charges against the physician.
    These 2 nurses had worked many years and were very experienced and respected and they had really no choice but to go finally to the Texas Medical Board. Normally an investigation takes place and until verification of the complaints are made no one's reputation or job is endangered as names remain anonymous.
    I cannot imagine that these nurses ever expected such a terrible sequence of events and the loss of their jobs that occurred and the indictments and further trials have yet to be concluded.
    I wish to say that as a nurse myself , if you have ever been a patient in a hospital your greatest protector and advocate for the safety of your care will be the staff of nurses who work tirelessly 24 hours a day going without lunch and rest as it may require to devote themselves to your care. These nurses were not criminals but the sheriff , hospital administrator , physician and others who have been indicted and some so far convicted need to be seen as criminals and a danger to your care as a patient when you enter a hospital, vulnerable and dependent completely in the hands of the staff around you for your health and healing.

    Posted by Vivian Weinstein R.N., 06/28/2011 11:10am (3 years ago)

  • Yes this doctor reccomended vitamins for his patients. I am so happy the nurses turned him in. The damage to his patients from Vitamin C could have been terrible. This island medicine from the Pacific doesn't deserve to be practiced in Texas. Since nurses know much more than doctors they should be in charge and if they don't like the way the doc looks at him file a complaint immediately to the TMB. I heard this crazy doc used olive oil as well! OH MY! I just wish these nurses could turn in Whole Foods the whole store is packed with quack cures for what ailes you! Snake oil medicine I say! Halleluah for them West Texas Nurses who knows not to use no vitamin or herb.

    Posted by Josephat, 06/22/2011 10:35pm (3 years ago)

  • what happened to hospital manager, hospital board , dr arafiles, and texas medical board ? i understand the quality assurance system was bypassed so rogue sherif could harass nurses or even allowing the situation that was reported to texas medical board ?

    Posted by george, 06/22/2011 8:57pm (3 years ago)

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