While the absurd case brought against Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle; two Registered Nurse Whistleblowers in Kermit, TX is long over. (I discussed their heroic story in a previous Blog post.) The criminal case surrounding the physician involved is just wrapping up.
The physician, Dr. Arafiles, was originally reported to the Texas Medical Board for unsafe medical practice concerns in 2008 and has finally gone to court and plead guilty on November 7, 2011 to criminal charges of felony retaliation against Anne and Vickilyn and misuse of information. He will now be forced to surrender his medical license, albeit as a part of a plea deal. Three other men involved in retaliation against these nurses: a sheriff, a lawyer, and the hospital CEO have all been convicted of retaliation and misuse of information and are serving prison time.
It is truly shocking the history this physician had already established with the texas medical board, prior to the complaint filed by Anne and Vickilyn. A recent article in The Texas Observer written by Saul Elbein discusses in detail the lengthy history of medical malpractice complaints and license limitations placed by the Texas Medical Board over about a 10 year period against Dr. Arafiles; the entire time still being allowed to practice in Texas. He was also able to move around the state and start new jobs and care for new patients. Patients that had no idea of his past professional misconduct.
If the hospital in Kermit, TX knew about these past licensing restrictions and malpractice complaints why would they hire him? If they hired him, why not then for the well-being of their patients, make him disclose this information to all of his patients and let them decide if they wanted him as their doctor.
Reading through articles about this case, one interesting recent policy change at the Texas Medical Board I found surprised me. Complaints against physicians can no longer be made anonymously. This is very angering to me. Allowing complaints to be filed without the fear of retaliation is important. Having to place your name on a complaint will in no doubt deter valid complaints from being filed.
The front page of the Texas Medical Board website states:
Our mission is to protect and enhance the public’s health, safety and welfare by establishing and maintaining standards of excellence used in regulating the practice of medicine and ensuring quality health care for the citizens of Texas through licensure, discipline and education.
The change to this policy makes a very strong statement by the Board in obvious protection of physicians in Texas.
They fail their stated mission: to protect the public.
For the sake of comparison, in the State of Texas; The Nursing Board very clearly states on their website that complaint information will be kept confidential even if the nurse is disciplined.
Each of us has the chance to become a patient in a hospital at any moment in time. It is important that patients have this valuable information available to them. We have the right to feel safe and secure in the care we are receiving. Sadly it seems, we have to do our own research into those that provide us care.
During an emergency, if you can’t breathe, you place trust in the institution that they have done this research already and the people helping you are safe to practice. It’s hard sometimes to have that blind trust after reading stories like this.