On July 17, Texas Nurses Association filed a formal complaint with the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) – the state agency that licenses hospitals – against the Winkler County Memorial Hospital of Kermit, TX. The action was taken in response to a series of events in Winkler County, launched by a report to the Texas Medical Board by two registered nurses – Anne Mitchell, RN and Vicki Galle, RN – who had concerns about a physician’s standard of practice at the West Texas hospital.
Since reporting the physician in early April 2009, the two nurses have been indicted and arrested on third-degree felony charges of misuse of official information. The charges carry penalties of up to ten years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000. The criminal indictments allege the nurses improperly disclosed information that was not public “with intent to harm” the physician since they included medical patient record numbers – not patient names – in the report.
The hospital also terminated the employment of the nurses, both members of Texas Nurses Association (TNA). In its formal complaint to DSHS, TNA stated it believes the Winkler County Memorial Hospital has a “self review” policy that prohibits nurses (and other employees) from reporting patient care concerns to outside agencies without first getting the hospital’s permission. TNA believes such a policy violates the rights of the nurses under the Texas Nursing Practice Act and Hospital Licensing Rules.
“The Nursing Practice Act, a Texas statute (law), gives registered nurses the right to report a licensed health care practitioner, agency or facility if they have reasonable belief (cause) that their patient may be exposed to harm,” explained Clair Jordan, MSN, RN, executive director of Texas Nurses Association. “Over the years, TNA has been involved in the passage of the Nursing Practice Act provisions and DSHS rules in order to make sure,” she explained, “that nurses are able to advocate for their patients without fear of retaliation.”
Further, TNA’s complaint also states that it has reason to believe the hospital terminated the nurses’ employment because of the nurses’ report to the Texas Medical Board, and that such termination constitutes retaliation which is prohibited by a number of Texas laws and regulations.