It's their duty: Nurses' primary responsibility is to the patients, not doctors
Copyright 2010, HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Aug. 16, 2010, 9:25PM
Share Del.icio.usDiggTwitterYahoo! BuzzFacebookStumbleUponEmail Close [X>A nurse's primary job is: A) To take care of her patients. B) To protect her doctor.
To most of us, the answer seems obvious. So we were pleased last week that two nurses, Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle, won a settlement from Winkler County, Texas the county that not only fired them after they blew the whistle on a questionable doctor but prosecuted them on criminal charges to boot.
In 2008, Mitchell and Galle began to voice concerns about a new hire, Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr., to their superiors at Winkler County Memorial Hospital in Kermit. But nothing happened.
So last year, Mitchell and Galle quietly filed a complaint with the state medical board. Among other things, they alleged that Arafiles had failed to diagnose appendicitis; used an odd olive-oil solution to treat a resistant bacterial infection; and sutured a rubber scissor tip to a patient's finger.
Soon after the doctor was notified of the charges, Winkler County Sheriff Robert Roberts asked the board to send him a copy of the complaint. The board assumed he planned to investigate the doctor. Instead, Roberts a golfing buddy of the doctor's - used it to identify the whistleblowers.
The small town's power structure rallied to Arafiles' defense. The hospital fired both nurses, claiming they'd violated patient privacy by making a confidential report to the state. The county attorney pressed felony charges.
Luckily, not all power lies in the hands of small-town officials. Jurors acquitted Mitchell earlier this year and hugged her, too. The county dropped the charges against Galle.
The Department of State Health Services fined the hospital $15,850 for firing the nurses and inadequately supervising the doctor. And the Texas Medical Board charged Arafiles with numerous violations. Given all that, it's no surprise that last week, Winkler County commissioners voted unanimously to settle the nurses' lawsuit. Considering the ugliness of the facts, $750,000 seems a bargain.
For their part, the nurses say the case was never about the money, that they just want to move on with their lives. We hope that those lives include new nursing jobs. The world needs more nurses like them.