Whistle Blower Nurse Fired and Criminally Charged for Reporting Doctor
I don’t normally comment on cases in the United States. But this one was so outrageous it is worth commenting upon.
Nurse Concerned About Doctor’s Conduct
Nurse Anne Mitchell wrote what she thought would be a confidential letter to the Texas Medical Board expressing concerns about a doctor’s unsafe medical practices.
She thought the letter would be anonymous. Unfortunately, after learning of the complaint the doctor, Dr. Rolando Arafiles fired the nurse and reported her to the police!
Even more incredible the police charged her with the criminal offence of “misuse of official information”. Ms. Mitchell was prosecuted and faced up to 10 years in prison for doing what she believed was her obligation under the law – to report unsafe medical practices.
If Ms. Mitchell was found guilty it would have been a blow not only to her but also to every patient who has to undergo shoddy medical care at the hands of negligent doctors.
Fortunately for Ms. Mitchell, the jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning a verdict of not gulity on all the criminal charges. Ms. Mitchell’s lawyers have filed a civil suit against the doctor, the hospital and various officials involved in her wrongful prosecution.
This ridiculous prosecution shows the lengths that some doctors will go to when trying to intimidate anyone who expresses concern about the quality of their medical services.
Nurses First Line of Defence
Nurses are often the persons most familiar with the condition and medical needs of their patients. It is the obligation of all health care workers to be aware of, and report, unsafe medical practices.
In 20 years of medical malpratice litigation I have had many cases where the success of my clients claim turned directly on the evidence of the nurses who were courageous enough to chart, and testify, about the negligent conduct of the doctors that injured my clients.
Canada Protects Whistleblowers
In Canada, employers who try to intimidate or threaten employees in order to prevent them from providing information to law enforcement officials are liable for criminal sanctions under Section 425.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
There is provincial occupational health and safety legislation that protects employees from reprisals resulting from attempting to enforce statutory health and safety provisions. An employer who fires an employee for reporting their negligence conduct could also be subject to civil sanctions in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit.
However, at least in Nova Scotia, there is no legislation that requires nurses and other health care workers to report what they believe to be negligent medical care on the part of a doctor.
Still Room for Improvement
Our legislation needs to be strengthened to require employees to report what may not be statutory violations but still amount to negligent care while still protecting those who come forward to report their concerns.