Justice in Winkler County
by, 03-04-2010 at 02:24 PM (10635 Views)
When Winkler County nurse Ann Mitchell was acquitted of all charges on February 11th, I joined nurses across the country in breathing a huge sigh of relief. Mitchell was facing third degree felony charges after she and fellow nurse, Vicki Galle, reported a physician to the Texas Board of Medicine for unsafe practice. The more I followed the case, the more I wondered how efforts to stop unsafe practice could possibly result in jail time.
As nurses, we are familiar with the Nurse Practice Act and Code of Ethics that outline our duties to patients. We advocate for and protect the health, safety and welfare of those in our care. Mitchell and Galle fulfilled their professional obligation when they filed a complaint with the medical board. However, the physician then reported the nurses for harassment, which resulted in them being charged with misuse of information. Since this was a criminal charge, laws meant to protect whistle-blower laws did not apply to the two nurses.
Nurses do not take lightly their obligation to formally report unsafe care. As professionals, who are considered the most ethical of all professions, according to Gallopís annual poll, nurses take their responsibilities seriously. Moreover, nurses will attempt to remedy such situations before they get to point of requiring a formal regulatory complaint.
Mitchell and Galle followed the appropriate reporting chain of command and believed that they had no other choice but to report the physician to the medical board. They did everything right but ended up looking like the bad guys in addition to facing felony charges. Today Mitchell and Galle are heroes. They did the right thing and accepted the personal ramifications of their actions.
This case highlights a disturbing trend which could have considerable ramifications for the nursing profession. Some are concerned that this case will silence health professionals who do not want to find themselves in similar situations. However, I believe this case demonstrates that the system works. When faced with difficult choices nurses will continue to do what is best for patients. The publicís trust is well placed.