Let’s hear it for the whistleblowers!


A couple of months ago I read an article in the paper about a nurse in west Texas who reported a doctor to the state board whom she viewed as not practicing good medical procedures involving prescriptions and surgical practices. She was taking her vow of protecting patients from unsafe practices very seriously and doing exactly what she was supposed to do.

The doctor happened to have a very good friend who happened to be the sheriff of the county. The nurse, along with another officer in the hospital were charged with misuse of official information. Their computers were seized.

When they reported the doctor, they did not sign the letter that was sent to the board, but the doctor found out anyway. The two women were indicted and scheduled for trial.

I was incensed that these charges could be filed and more incensed that these women could be brought to trial. (That is, as incensed as I ever tend to get.) I was going to blog about this matter when I first saw it, but I never did get around to it. Just as I was beginning to wonder whatever happened, a second article appeared in the paper. The headline read “Whistle-lower nurse is acquitted.” (Star-Telegram, Feb. 12, 2010.)

The case of the hospital officer was dropped, but the nurse actually went to trial.

I was very pleased to see that headline. When the lives and health of patients are at stake, somebody has to stand up for them. She was simply doing her job according to the law. The hospital fired both women for doing what they were supposed to be doing. Nurses are taught the code of ethics in nursing school that it is their duty to report unsafe care regardless of whether is it a doctor, pharmacist, or whoever.

Fortunately, the nurses associations, both the Texas and the American,  stood behind both of them and supported them. It’s easier for someone to stand up and do what’s right when she/he have those who believe in what is being done. More details can be found in the Winkler newspaper highlighted above.

This situation was made even more difficult by the fact that the doctor and the sheriff personally know each other, The sheriff happened to sell a nutritional product that the doctor prescribed. How much of a coincidence is that?

Of course, according to the sheriff, the two are not in business together although the doctor did introduce him to the supplement selling program. Now let’s see…small west Texas town, in all probability the sheriff is the only supplier, doctor recommends the supplement…hmmmmmmm. What is the natural thing to think? Kind of has shades of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane written all over it, seems to me. For those of you not familiar with old American TV shows, he was the sheriff of Hazzard County who, along with his partner in crime Boss Hogg, the county commissioner, always schemed to make money any way they could.

It seems to me that the two of them decided to use “the heavy hand of the law” to intimidate these two women and thereby get rid of the problem. That didn’t happen.

The two women, one with the dropped case and the other having been acquitted of any wrong-doing, have filed a federal suit alleging illegal retaliation for being a patient advocate, and violation of civil rights and due process. Not only are the sheriff and doctor named, the lawsuit names the hospital, the county, the hospital administrator, the district attorney, and the county attorney.

Now I’ve never been to this county, nor do I have any particular burning desire to visit. Winkler County with the biggest town of Kermit, population about 5700,  is not on my list of vacation sites. The county is less that 850 sq. miles with a population of a little more than 7,000 inhabitants.

I’m guessing that when this is all over, unfortunately, the two nurses would probably be better off moving away from Kermit. Some people have long memories and a lot of patience, and 840 square miles of absolutely nothing is a lot of area to search for missing people.

Namaste. Attic Annie

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