The Winkler County nurse whistleblower case was a series of legal proceedings in West Texas that centered on the retaliation upon two nurses who submitted an anonymous state medical board complaint against a physician in 2009. The case attracted national attention for its implications on whistleblowing by nurses. After witnessing what they believed to be unsafe medical care, nurses Anne Mitchell and Vicki Galle submitted an anonymous complaint against Dr. Rolando Arafiles to the Texas Medical Board (TMB).
When he learned of the complaint, Arafiles spoke with the sheriff of Winkler County, who was his friend and one of his patients. Arafiles alleged that the nurses' reports to the medical board constituted harassment. The sheriff investigated and obtained the TMB complaint, which provided enough information about Mitchell and Galle to make them identifiable. Galle and Mitchell were terminated from the hospital and faced criminal charges of misuse of official information. Galle's charges were dropped before trial and Mitchell was acquitted by a jury. In the aftermath of Mitchell's trial, Arafiles, several county officials and a hospital administrator all faced jail time for their roles in the retaliation against the nurses.
The case raised questions about the extent of whistleblower protection for healthcare providers who report patient care concerns to licensing authorities. Texas law included remedies against retaliation for whistleblowers, but no known U.S. state had whistleblower laws that addressed appropriate prosecutorial conduct. According to the Texas Nurses Association, "No one ever imagined that a nurse would be criminally prosecuted for reporting a patient care concern to a licensing agency." After the Mitchell case, protection from prosecution was incorporated into Texas whistleblower laws. The TMB stopped investigating anonymous complaints about physicians in September 2011.
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