Validating Professional Nursing
It’s about time. A guilty plea by Dr. Rolando Arafiles in a West Texas courtroom last week closed a painful chapter in the long career of Texas nurses Anne Mitchell, RN, and Vicki Galle, BSN, RN. As part of a plea bargain, Arafiles admitted guilt to retaliation and misuse of official information, both felonies, for his part in targeting the nurses after they reported him for medical misconduct to the Texas Medical Board (TMB). He received what many have called a slap on the wrist – surrender of his medical license, 60 days in jail, 5 years probation and a $5,000 fine – and still faces aggravated perjury charges related to the case.
Earlier, Robert Roberts, who had been Winkler County sheriff for 20 years, lost his job and was sentenced to 100 days – in his own jail after being found guilty of the same two charges for his part in helping Arafiles. He was forced to surrender his peace officer’s license. Scott Tidwell, the former Winkler County prosecuting attorney, also was found guilty of both charges and received a 4-month jail sentence. He is currently free on appeal, but has been replaced as county attorney.
While Arafiles claims his life has been up-ended and that he has been unfairly targeted, the nurses in this case will have to live with his actions for the rest of their lives.
Nurses with more than 47 years of experience between them, Mitchell and Galle were fired from their positions at Winkler County Memorial Hospital in Kermit, TX, where they had worked for many years after they were indicted for misusing official information, which was the basis for their report to the TMB. Mitchell was acquitted
in her court trial on the charges; similar charges against Galle were dropped. The women split a $750,000 settlement from the county, the hospital, Roberts and Tidwell for the vindictive prosecution.
Mitchell and Galle originally tried to report Arafiles to supervisors at the hospital, but were rebuffed. After watching him continue to provide substandard care, the two nurses felt they had no choice
but to report him to the medical board.
The ANA and the Texas Nurses Association both issued releases
following Arafiles guilty plea. The Texas Board of Nursing said they hoped the outcome sends a message that reporting violations of the state’s practice acts is important to public safety and provides reassurance that those who report will be protected.
Katherine A. Thomas, MN, RN, FAAN, board executive director, said nurses in Texas are required to report violations of the Nursing Practice Act to the Board of Nursing and may report other practitioners, agencies or facilities to their respective boards or agencies. This case touched so many people in the state that legislators passed a new law that took effect Sept. 1 to improve patient care by expanding the immunities from liability for a person who makes a report required or authorized by the NPA related to patient safety concerns in good faith. This includes immunity from civil and criminal liability so as not to deter a nurse from making a report that could enhance or promote patient safety and extends non-retaliatory protections for nurses who refuse an assignment or make a good faith report related to patient care or request a Nursing Peer Review Committee determination (Safe Harbor). The same protections apply to nurses who advise other nurses about their rights and obligations to report in good faith. The appropriate licensing agency may impose an administrative penalty not to exceed $25,000.00 against a person who retaliates.
While this was final justice for Mitchell and Galle, there are no winners in this case. The only saving grace for the two nurses is knowing they are still advocating for the patients of Winkler County, even though neither of them practice there.