Impact Of West Texas Nurse Trial Will Reverberate For Patients

February 11, 2010

Contact: Alex Winslow, 512-381-1111

IMPACT OF WEST TEXAS NURSE TRIAL WILL REVERBERATE FOR PATIENTS

Texas Has Become Wild West for Patient Safety – Despite Nurses Acquittal, Prosecution Threatens Patient Safety

West Texas nurse Anne Mitchell was acquitted today for filing a complaint with the Texas Medical Board (TMB) alleging that a doctor she worked with was endangering his patients. The jury rightly determined she had a duty to protect her patients. However, this prosecution will have long term consequences for the safety of patients in Texas. Individuals with knowledge of medical wrongdoing will hesitate to speak up for fear they might be dragged into criminal court, putting Texas patients in danger.

“While today’s decision brings an end to this particular legal drama, the impact of this prosecution on patient safety in Texas is yet to be felt. Whether Ms. Mitchell was convicted or exonerated, was largely irrelevant to the long term impact her prosecution will have on Texas patients. The very fact that she was prosecuted will make individuals who have information that could save lives will think twice before speaking up, putting Texas patients at risk,” said Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch, a statewide citizen advocacy organization active on patient safety matters.

Texas patients have had their right to hold a doctor accountable in court severely curtailed and the state Office of Patient Protection was shuttered by lawmakers before it could begin serving patients as a public ombudsman and advocate. This has left the Texas Medical Board – a flawed state agency with a history of being too cozy with the doctors it regulates – as the only line of defense Texans have against dangerous, careless, or unqualified doctors. The TMB relies on complaints made by members of the public to aid them in policing the medical profession. This prosecution has put a chilling effect on individuals who want to come forward with evidence of violations of patient safety.

“Texas has become the Wild West when it comes to medicine,” said Winslow. “Our courthouses are closed and patients have no public advocates. Now, our only line of defense to protect patients from dangerous, careless or unqualified doctors, the Texas Medical Board, is hamstrung because of this prosecution.”

“Medical malpractice and hospital infections kill an estimated 200,000 Americans each year,” added Winslow. “Curbing the epidemic of medical errors by implementing proven patient safety standards and protocols, restoring patient rights, and rooting out the few bad doctors who commit most of the malpractice should be our top priority – not dragging nurses into court for trying to protect patients.”

The Texas Medical Board’s job is to license, regulate, and police the medical profession without the aid of the legal process or public patient advocates. This agency has a history of problems and has been criticized for being too soft and too cozy with the doctors it is tasked with overseeing. However, because the special interests succeeded in stripping patients of their rights, this small group of bureaucrats with a budget of just $11.4 million and only 43 investigators are all patients have to protect them.

The prosecution of Anne Mitchell will likely give other nurses and individuals with knowledge of medical wrongdoing pause before they speak up, severely hampering the TMB’s ability to properly regulate and oversee the 48,373 physicians practicing in our state. As the medical board’s director said in a scathing letter to prosecutors: “The willingness of persons to come forward and file complaints with the Board is critical to the Board’s success in regulating the practice of medicine as required by Texas law. Causing persons to fear criminal felony prosecution if they do so undermines the Board’s ability to do its job.”

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N. Alex Winslow

Executive Director

Texas Watch

815 Brazos Street, Suite 603

Austin, Texas 78701-2509

512-381-1111 (o)

512-381-1115 (f)

512-699-6644 (c)

nawinslow@texaswatch.org