Nurse whistleblowers face jail time for reporting quack to medical board
Dr. Dave Gorski reports on a stunning miscarriage of justice: Two nurses face possible jail time because they filed an anonymous complaint against a doctor who was peddling natural remedies out of the ER of their small rural hospital in Kermit, TX.
The quack turned out to be a vindictive quack. When the Texas Medical Board informed Dr. Rolando Arafiles, Jr. that he was under investigation, he lodged a complaint of criminal harassment with the Winkler County Sheriff, who worked tirelessly to unmask the anonymous tipsters:
To find out who made the anonymous complaint, the sheriff left no stone unturned. He interviewed all of the patients whose medical record case numbers were listed in the report and asked the hospital to identify who would have had access to the patient records in question.
At some point, the sheriff obtained a copy of the anonymous complaint and used the description of a "female over 50" to narrow the potential complainants to the two nurses. He then got a search warrant to seize their work computers and found a copy of the letter to the medical board on one of them. [New Statesman]
This is a a caliber of detective work scarcely seen outside of TV cop shows, especially for non-violent, non-crimes like complaining to a medical board. How did Dr. Arafiles get such vigorous policing from the Winkler County Sheriff's Department? Dave wonders if Dr. Arafiles and Sheriff Robert Roberts, Jr. are buddies. I think I found the answer. According to a lawsuit filed by the nurses, Arafiles and Roberts were--wait for it--associates in the herbal supplement business!
In theory, the Texas Medical Board allows anonymous tips, but privacy protections are so weak that the sheriff was able to figure out who blew the whistle.
The nurses, Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle, were charged with improper use of official information, i.e., the state alleges that they improperly divulged confidential patient information in their complaint to the medical board. In fact, complaints to the medical board are HIPAA-exempt, which means that the nurses didn't have to get patient permission to share medical information with the board.
Dr. Arafiles was familiar with the workings of the Texas Medical Board, having already been disciplined in 2007. That time, the board fined him $1000 for failing to properly supervise a nurse practitioner and ordered him to educate himself on ethics, medical records and the treatment of obesity.
The Texas Nurses' Association has set up a legal defense fund for the Kermit Two, which you can support by clicking here. Dave is encouraging his readers to write polite letters to the Wikler County District Attorney's Office protesting the charges.