Nursing Notes

January 31, 2011

Update on the fiasco in Winkler County–By Toni Inglis

Map of Texas highlighting Winkler County
Image via Wikipedia

Imaging my surprise when I opened the website for my hospital and discovered this article prominently displayed there.  Toni Inglis writes for both our hospital newspaper as well as for the Austin newspaper and she has been keeping tabs on this ongoing saga since the beginning.  I had to repost her article here in case other hospitals are not as forcoming about informing nurses across the country about these events.  Enjoy!

 

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I’m a nurse. Fortunately, I’ve never worked with an incompetent doctor. But if I worked alongside one who sutured a rubber scissor tip to a patient’s broken thumb; gave three enemas to a 10-year-old boy and misdiagnosed his appendicitis; and examined the genitals of patients presenting with stomach distress, headache and sinus, blood pressure and jaw problems, I assure you I would report that doctor to the Texas Medical Board in a flash.

Back in April 2009, Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle, nurses in dusty Winkler County in the Permian Basin, and others reported to the board that Dr. Rolando Arafiles Jr. delivered the inept care described above. The board investigated the reports and issued formal charges against the doctor.

Upon receiving notification of the complaint, the doctor turned to his buddy, the sheriff. Winkler County Sheriff Robert L. Roberts Jr. launched an investigation aimed at finding who had reported his buddy, the doctor, to the medical board. The administrator of the Winkler County Memorial Hospital in Kermit fired the nurses. That was only the beginning of their troubles.

In June 2009, the nurses were indicted on charges of misusing official information — a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Mitchell and Galle filed a federal civil lawsuit in August 2009 against the hospital administrator, physician, sheriff, county attorney, District Attorney Mike Fostel as well as the hospital and the county. They charged that their constitutional right to free speech and due process was violated. They further accused the defendants of violating laws intended to protect whistle-blowers.

A year later, the civil suit was settled when Winkler County officials agreed to pay them $750,000 for past and future earnings, an amount they will share with their attorneys. Taxpayers are responsible for the bill.

The criminal charges against Galle were dropped. National headlines were made when a jury acquitted Mitchell in less than an hour in February 2010.

Last month, Arafiles was arrested and charged but continued his $200,000 job at the hospital.

After Mitchell’s acquittal, Attorney General Greg Abbott opened an investigation of the case. Lawyers from the attorney general’s office presented their case to a grand jury, which on Jan. 13 returned indictments against the doctor, sheriff, county attorney and hospital administrator on charges of retaliation against the nurses.

Roberts and County Attorney Scott M. Tidwell each face six counts — two counts each of misuse of official information and retaliation (third-degree felonies) and official oppression (class A misdemeanor).

Stan Wiley, the hospital administrator who hired Arafiles and fired the nurses, was indicted on two counts of retaliation. He has since resigned.

Arafiles faces two counts each of misuse of official information and retaliation against the nurses. How rich an irony that those involved were indicted on the same charge as the nurses — misuse of official information.

Two brilliant nursing careers were ended; the county became divided as its reputation suffered. The rural hospital was left in turmoil, and medical providers left, leaving people with few options for care — a burden disproportionately shared by the elderly.

Ultimately, after the medical board’s official charges were challenged by Arafiles, the case went to an administrative law judge.

Arafiles and medical board staff reached an agreed settlement. The terms have not been disclosed. The medical board has final say on the agreement and is scheduled to consider it at its February meeting.

The whole tawdry affair was unnecessary and should send a message that stunning displays of good ol’ boy idiocy and abuse of prosecutorial discretion in a small, far-off county will not be tolerated.

Turning a case around 180 degrees and prosecuting the prosecutors is a judicial anomaly. The judicial system functioned as it should.

We await the final disposition of the case, when the doctor and officials might or might not be convicted. Like the nurses before them, they are presumed innocent. But their indictments alone prove that justice was served, at least so far.

 

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4 Comments »

  1. I was wondering what had happened with this story. Thanks for posting!

    Comment by kitchrn — February 1, 2011 @ 2:09 am | Reply

    • I thought I should post it because I, too, wondered what the outcome was. Thanks for commenting.

      Comment by Shirley — February 1, 2011 @ 3:37 am | Reply

  2. Two former nurses have filed a claim forwrongful termination against Winkler County Memorial Hospital in Texas but the former employees and their Texas employment lawyer have so far failed to reach a settlement after two rounds of mediation..The Odessa American reports that U.S. A pre-trial hearing has been set with this case for November 16..Nurses Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle are suing Winkler County Memorial Hospital and several county officials after they reported Doctor Rolando G.

    Comment by Monex — February 8, 2011 @ 10:57 pm | Reply

  3. We live in Mo. My son was also wrongfully prosecuted by a prosecuting atty. School superintendent said my son attacked him. He was found not guilty. However, Atty.s tell him he cannot file charges against the P.A. for malicious pros. You may be able to check it out on YTube.com. Man chained to post in Montgomery County,MO.
    He was wondering what statues were used in the defence and how (you have the same immunity law as MO)you were able to get an atty to take your case? Please answer to mmillero@aol.com

    Comment by Marge Miller — June 5, 2011 @ 9:24 pm | Reply


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