The most important responsibility of any medical service is patient safety. Having worked for a hospital as an Administrative Assistant, an entirely new and different world was opened up for me. One of my duties was Medical Staff Coordinator, which entailed credentialing physicians – and ensuring that our physicians on staff were current with their license and insurance. Much research is done to begin with, establishing everything from their educational background, verifying license, insurance, and referrals. It was a very interesting part of my job, which I enjoyed thoroughly. The main thing that anyone learns when working for a hospital, or any other medical-related field, is that you are first and foremost a patient advocate. This is especially true for nurses and physicians.
Back in 2009, two Registered Nurses in a town of around 6,000 people in Kermit in far west Texas, sent an unsigned complaint to the state medical board that a certain physician was inconsistent with quality of care and patient safety and was practicing non-therapeutic treatment and prescriptions. Both nurses lost their jobs at the local hospital, and were indicted for their action. The complete story, “The West Texas Nurses” can be read on the Texas Nurses Association’s website in the Advocate Section. They were cleared of the charges that local law enforcement brought against them, but suffered much retaliation during the process.
These two nurses had both been employed by the local hospital for more than twenty years; they both shared the responsibility of Medical Staff Coordinator, and one of them served in the position of Quality Improvement/Utility Management Coordinator, and the other as Compliance Officer. These are important hospital assignments that are taken very seriously. They were dedicated nurses who were looking out for their patients.
Texas has whistle-blower laws that provide nurses with legal grounds to allege retaliation. Their termination and criminal indictment was illegal retaliation in violation of the Nursing Practice Act and other Texas laws, such as Sections 301.4025 and 301.413 of the Nursing Practice Act that gives nurses a right to report other licensed practitioners and prohibits retaliation; Board of Nursing Rule 217.19 related to peer review and whistleblower protection; Health and Safety Code provisions prohibiting retaliation for reporting patient care concerns; Medical Practice Act provisions that prohibit retaliation for reporting to the medical board; and The Public Employee Whistleblower Act.
Patient advocacy, specifically reporting concerns about a practitioner’s standard of care, is protected under Texas laws. No one ever anticipated that a nurse would be criminally prosecuted for reporting a patient care concern to a licensing agency. The nurses received assistance with legal funds from the American Nurses Association, Texas Nurses Association, and individual nurses from around the United States.
The physician in question has been placed on probation for four years and can continue to practice medicine if he completes additional medical training, according to the Texas medical regulators. He must be monitored by another physician and submit patient medical and billing records for review, which findings will be reported to the board. He has also been indicted on criminal charges in the case, for “misuse of official information and retaliation.” The Winkler County Sheriff may face similar charges, as well as the County Attorney.
This incident has stirred up interest by nurses across the country. The two nurses were doing their duty in reporting situations that they felt endangered certain patients. We know that, thankfully, the majority of physicians uphold their oath of duty to furnish proper care for their patients.
We are our best advocates when it comes to our health care. If we have a family member that is unable to make medical decisions, or we suspect improper care, we must speak up. This is true for every walk of life. We have the right to speak up without fear of repercussion. It’s known as the Whistleblowers Act.
Thank goodness for those two nurses in Kermit, Texas, and all who supported them. They did the right thing.