TX DA charges nurses with felonies for reporting physicians: I call shenanigans.
Winkler County Texas District Attorney Mike Fostel was ‘out of town’ last week Friday when news organizations were seeking comments as to why his office has indicted two former Winkler County Memorial Hosputal nurses on 3rd degree felony charges for “misuse of official information”. Each one-page indictment filed against them alleges they improperly accessed information that was not public “with intent to harm” the doctor for “a nongovernmental purpose.” Possible sentencing is up to 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Fostel may want to stay out of town for a while longer.
The nurses, Anne Mitchell and Vicki Galle, filed an anonymous complaint with the Texas Medical Board on April 7 alleging Dr. Rolando Arafiles encouraged patients he saw at the Winkler County Memorial Hospital emergency room and the county’s rural health clinic to buy herbal medicines. The complaint also said that the hospital’s chief of staff stopped him from taking supplies to perform a procedure at a patient’s home, instead of at the hospital. They included patient medical record numbers but no patient names. When Dr. Arafiles was notified of the complaint by the Board, he filed a complaint of harassment with the County Sheriff. His investigation revealed the identities of the nurses. The DA, apparently based on the nurses having provided medical record numbers with their complaint (which is allowed by state law in such cases and is not a HIPAA or privacy violation), and the hospital being a county institution (thus medical record numbers are official information) broght the charges. Each one-page indictment filed against them alleges they improperly accessed information that was not public “with intent to harm” the doctor for “a nongovernmental purpose.”
The Texas Medical Board defended the nurses’ actions Friday and said it’s the board’s state-mandated duty to look into such complaints. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a criminal prosecution like this,” said Mari Robinson, executive director of the Texas Medical Board. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a criminal prosecution for providing information to the medical board. Ever.”
The American Nurses Association and its Texas affiliate said they are concerned about a “chilling effect” on other nurses. “It’s outrageous to file criminal felony charges against these nurses based on allegations that they raised concerns over a physician’s action,” the national group’s president, Rebecca Patton, said in a statement. “Nurses have a duty to advocate for the health and safety of their patients, and that is what these nurses were doing.” A legal defense fund has been set up by the Texas Nurses Association.
I call shenanigans on the Winkler County DA. Assuming that he is not an incompetent boob, and that he actually went to, and graduated from, law school, the only explanation for his abuse of power is collusion with the physician. It is impossible for his office to have adequately investigated the complaint allegations to allow a good faith conclusion that it was an “attempt to harm” the physician. Impossible since the board is charged with that responsibility under Texas law and they have come to no such conclusion. Impossible since the board was taken by suprise that charges had been filed and are defending the nurses. Fostel is now under a national spotlight after disparaging the professional reputations of these nurses and causing them to be fired from the hospital. And well he should be. It is hard to imagine what his defense will be to charges of prosecutorial misconduct and ethics violations. I wonder if he will take the stand in his civil trial? Will his law license survive unlike Mike Nifong after the Duke Lacrosse bogus rape charges? He made need a few herbal remidies over the next few months.
, Winkler County
, vicki galle