Any alumni of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center out there? That’s my painting on page 28 of their alumni magazine, Pulse. I’m not an alumni, but this image accompanied one of the posts I wrote in support of The Winkler County Whistle Blower Nurses, Vickilyn Galle, and Anne Mitchell, who are, for JParadisiRN.com. The editor contacted me for permission to use the image. I am proud to be connected in a tiny way to these two courageous nurses, who put their careers in jeopardy for the protection of patients.
A colleague and I discussed the Winkler County Whistle Blowers case and our admiration for Registered Nurses Vicki Galle and Anne Mitchell. They brought the nurse’s role of patient safety advocate into the national spotlight.
My colleague is also a force to reckon with when it comes to patient advocacy. During our conversation she grew quiet and told me once, she had advocated for a patient without the support of her peers or administration.
The event occurred early in her nursing career, before she gained the skill and knowledge, which now empower her ability to act confidently as an advocate. In the end, she followed orders, even though they conflicted with her ethics. Decades later, she still regrets her choice.
I listened to her story, and tried to imagine her as a young nurse, uncertain and faced with a situation nursing school had not prepared her for. I imagined her alone and isolated, the only one in a nursing unit who felt, or more likely, spoke out loud the feeling that what was happening might not be best for the patient.
The Winkler County Whistle Blower case demonstrates that this kind of moral isolation still happens to nurses. However, it also demonstrates that nurses have developed resources for themselves and learned how to access them. These days, many hospitals have ethics committees and safety committees for reporting unsafe systems and behavior. Many hospitals have policies protecting nurses who refuse to administer treatments that conflict with their moral beliefs. Winkler County Memorial hospital fired Anne Mitchell and Vicki Galle when they used the hospital’s safety chain of command to protect patients, but the hospital and the doctor bringing charges against them found out this kind of punitive behavior is no longer tolerated by the court system or a majority of health care professionals. The Texas Nurses Association and the American Nurses Association said, “We are watching,” as did the Texas Medical Board. I’ve heard the conversations of doctors who ask why Dr. Arafile’s colleagues didn’t report his behavior. Why was the responsibility left to nurses? If any of these resources were available for my nurse colleague when she faced her dilemma decades ago, I would be surprised.
My heart breaks for that young nurse, facing an ethical dilemma alone and unsupported, with nowhere to turn. I told my colleague I hope she has forgiven that young, inexperienced, and frightened version of herself, with her older, more experienced self’s compassion. I suggested that what she learned from that episode long ago has forged her into the warrior nurse advocate she is today, benefiting hundreds of patients during her long career as their advocate.
Congratulations to Anne Mitchell, RN and her lawyer John H. Cook IV on winning an acquittal for Anne, charged with misuse of patient information when she reported a doctor for medical misconduct. Mitchell faced charges of using the patient information with intent of harming the career of the doctor. If convicted, Mitchell could have faced imprisonment of up to 10 years, and a fine as large as $10,000. The jury ruled unanimously in Mitchell’s favor, on the first ballot. The Texas Nurses Association, and the American Nurses Association have supported Ms. Mitchell’s innocence.
Next, Mitchell and her lawyer are prosecuting Winkler County Memorial Hospital, which fired her and Vicki Galle, and Doctor Arafiles in federal court for violation of Mitchell’s First Amendment Rights.
You go, Anne and Vicki! Thanks for standing at the plate and taking a hit for the team. Your courage as patient advocates is inspiring.
An opinion on the Anne Mitchell case is posted by David Gorski on Science Based Medicine. Anne Mitchell, RN stands trial for reporting a doctor for behavior that she asserts is medically inappropriate. She was fired from her job at a Winkler County, Texas hospital for filing the anonymous report. If convicted, Mitchell faces up to 10 years of prison, and a felony record. The Trial has begun.
Related posts on this blog:
I recently posted Texas Nurses Accused of Harassment in Whistle Blower Case about Vicki Galle and Anne Mitchell, two nurses accused of intent to do harm by reporting a doctor for unsafe medical practice. Charges against Vicki Galle were dismissed, however, 52 year-old Anne Mitchell, if convicted, faces up to 10 years in prison, according to an article written by Kevin Sack, published February 6 in The New York Times.
Mitchell is a registered nurse and Compliance Officer for the hospital that fired both her and Galle in June, 2009. The Texas Nurses Association supports Anne Mitchell, and publishes updates about the case on their website. You can also donate to the legal defense fund of Anne Mitchell on the TNA website.
No one is free when others are repressed.
attributed to Mahatma Gandhi
For a couple of years, I worked in Quality Improvement (QI) for a nursing department. My job was to review error and near miss error reports, tease out the cause(s) and develop strategies preventing error recurrence. I learned a lot of things that helped make patients safer in a hospital. I loved that job.
So, I am concerned about a situation I became aware of last week in a post by Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN interim editor in chief, on the American Journal of Nursing’s blog Off the Chart. In the last paragraph of her post, she discusses the case of two Registered Nurses in Texas, who are facing prosecution as whistle blowers for reporting a physician of behavior they assert is unsafe for patients. Vicki Galle was in charge of the Hospital’s Quality Improvement and Anne Mitchell was the hospital’s Compliance Officer. For readers not involved in health care, this means it was their jobs to investigate hospital safety issues and report noncompliance ( people who aren’t following the rules). Both nurses were terminated from their jobs in June, 2009. Although Texas is a state with laws protecting whistle blowers, the laws do not prevent the physician they reported from filing a harassment suit against the pair. Sounds like another “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” scenario that health care providers can
inadvertently find themselves party to. Please read more about this complex case on the Texas Nurses Association website. There is also link to click which allows you to contribute to the legal defense fund of these two nurses, should you wish.