LUBBOCK, Texas – A lawsuit from two Texas nurses fired and charged for filing a complaint against a doctor whose medical practices they found improper was never about getting a check, one of the women said Wednesday.
"This has never been about the money," Anne Mitchell said, "because these situations are never about money. It's about good care."
Her comments came a day after county commissioners in Winkler County voted to approve a $750,000 settlement in the lawsuit brought by Mitchell, 53, and 54-year-old Vickilyn Galle. The two women will split the amount, Brian Carney, one of their attorneys, said.
The nurses in 2009 sent an unsigned letter to state medical regulators outlining their concerns about Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr., including his alleged use of herbal remedies and attempt to use hospital supplies to perform at-home procedures.
The Texas Medical Board has filed a formal complaint against Arafiles, who has been licensed in Texas since 1998.
Both women were charged with felony misuse of information after Arafiles went to the Winkler County sheriff, a friend and patient, and asked him to investigate who sent the letter.
Nursing associations and health care watchdogs in Texas and across the country rallied around Mitchell during her trial, saying the case was a key test of physician accountability and they warned of a potential chilling effect on medical professionals and consumers.
Mitchell was acquitted in February. Charges against Galle were dropped.
Not all nurses backed Mitchell and Galle, said Winkler County Attorney Scott Tidwell, who handled the prosecutions.
He said nurses at the county hospital where the women once worked told him there was "a pattern of abuse and harassment" in their dealings with Mitchell.
"They support her not being there," Tidwell said. "They tell me it is a much, much nicer place to be."
Mitchell said other nurses at the hospital brought to her attention "all but one" of cases which spurred the anonymous letter.
"I did not seek those cases out," she said. "The nurses that testified (at trial) said that they took those problems to me and Vicki."
The women's federal suit claimed their First Amendment rights were denied and that their prosecutions were vindictive. The defendants, which included hospital and county officials, and Arafiles, did not acknowledge liability in the settlement, Carney said.
The medical board's complaint against Arafiles alleges he used "poor medical judgment" and "poor decision-making," overbilled patients, prescribed nontherapeutic treatments and intimidated witnesses. He could face a wide range of disciplinary action, including losing his medical license.
An administrative law judge in Austin has sent the case to mediation. No date has been set, medical board spokeswoman Megan Goode said.
If no resolution comes from mediation, a trial will be held at the State Office of Administrative Hearings, she said.
In its complaint, the medical board accuses Arafiles of prescribing hormone replacement therapy to a patient with a history of deep vein thrombosis, which can cause "serious complications/death," and of not documenting the history. The patient developed a thrombosis after starting the medication, the complaint says.
He is also accused of sewing a part of a rubber tip from suture kit scissors onto a patient's right thumb and using olive oil on an abscess diagnosed with a staph infection.
The unprofessional conduct allegation stems from Arafiles' decision to go to the sheriff to have the anonymous letter investigated and to pursue criminal charges against the nurses, the complaint states.
The current board complaint against Arafiles is not the first. In 2007, he was prohibited from supervising physician assistants and nurse practitioners after he failed to properly supervise them at a weight-loss clinic in Victoria where he was working.