Nurse in legal trouble for reporting doctor

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A Texas nurse is on trial this week for reporting a doctor whose practices she believed endangered patients. As Kevin Sack of the New York Times reports, last year Anne Mitchell submitted a report expressing her concerns about Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr.’s prescription and surgical procedures—including sewing a rubber tip onto a patient’s finger for “protection,” a technique that was later questioned and found improper by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Yet, after Arafiles complained to local county sheriff, Robert L. Roberts Jr. who had been a patient after undergoing heart surgery, Mitchell was arrested and fingerprinted last June. She is now being tried on charges of “misuse of official information,” a third-degree felony in Texas that can mean up to a 10-year prison sentence if she is convicted.

The initial letter reporting Arafiles included information about six incidents that had alarmed Mitchell and two other nurses, as well as information about the doctor’s side business selling herbal supplements. As Sack, of the Times writes:

“To convict Mrs. Mitchell, the prosecution must prove that she used her position to disseminate confidential information for a ‘nongovernmental purpose’ with intent to harm Dr. Arafiles.”

Despite objections from nursing organizations, and a strong warning from the executive director of the Texas Medical Board about the dangerous ramifications a guilty verdict could have for the medical profession, Sheriff Roberts said he felt confident he could prove that Mitchell was attempting to destroy the doctor’s reputation and force him to leave town.

As for Mitchell, she seems bewildered and devastated. She characterized the events set in motion by her initial report as “surreal,” telling the Times: “[H]ow can this be? You can’t go to prison for doing the right thing.”