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Old Nursing School Photograph Portrays A Different Time In The Profession

I love old nursing photographs. Some of them are works of art. This photo from 1933 is an excellent example. The ladies posing in this photo are graduates of the Providence Hospital School of Nursing, Oakland, California. This striking photo chronicles the history of the nursing profession. These women were the original Angels of Mercy of the 20th Century.

It was a time of innocents, but even then, you had to be tough to make it as a nurse. It was a dismal time for nurses, and the beginning of the nursing shortage. According to a letter written by the ANA, through its Executive Committee and sent to hospital directors around the country back in 1933, nurses faced many challenges. There was an over abundance of nurses in the early 1930s. That meant that Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Nurse Ratched's Place*

Non-Endorsement Of The National Nurse Act: A Letter To The ANA

Office of the National NurseTo the American Nurses Association,

I am a member of the American Nurses Association (ANA) and a dedicated supporter of HR 4601 The National Nurse Act. For the life of me, I cannot understand ANA’s reluctance to endorse the National Nurse Act. The infrastructure already exists, in fact the position already exists. The Act seeks to have the Chief Nursing Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service designated as the National Nurse.

There is nothing political about this –- the nominating procedure for the position does not change. It is not a presidential appointment, nor is it a Cabinet position. And it costs nothing to implement -– it’s already funded. It takes no resources away from other nursing initiatives and competes with no other nursing organization. But more importantly, it gives the public a visible nurse leader as our healthcare delivery system transitions to one that focuses on health and the prevention of disease.

And yet, the ANA doesn’t endorse the Chief Nurse Officer of the U.S. Public Health Service being known as the National Nurse. Why? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Emergiblog*

Nurses Stand Up For Science And Patient Safety, Then Face Jail Time?

balanceYou may have heard about the whistleblower case in Texas where 2 nurses reported a physician (Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles, Jr.) to the State Medical Board for unethical medical practices. Even though the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics requires nurses to report physicians who may be of harm to patients, these two were punished for doing the right thing. (Apparently, the local sheriff was a friend of Dr. Arafiles’ and took it upon himself to charge the nurses with misuse of official information, a third-degree felony in Texas, because patient medical record numbers were included in the letter to the Texas Medical Board). The criminal prosecution charges were dropped against Vicki Galle, but the case against Anne Mitchell is ongoing.

But the real story – what was Dr. Arafiles doing that was so egregious? – has yet to be made public by the nurses. And thanks to bloggers Mike Dunford, and Orac over at ScienceBlogs.com, the truth is being revealed. Video footage of Dr. Arafiles’ bizarre medical beliefs and practices are available here. Apparently, he prescribed colloidal silver to treat H1N1 flu, promoted the false idea that vaccines contain a wild array of toxins (everything from MSG to fetal tissue), and was diagnosing patients with “Morgellons disease” which he describes as a parasitic infection that produces fibers that turn host cells into plastic. Read more »

Nurses Face Jail Time For Reporting An Unethical Physician

Although I have criticized state medical boards for not doing enough to protect patients from physicians who practice pseudoscientific medicine and quackery, they do nonetheless serve a purpose. Moreover, critical to medical boards doing even the limited amount of enforcement that they do is the ability of health care providers or other citizens to submit anonymous complaints against physicians who are not practicing up to the standard of care or who may be in other ways taking advantage of patients.

Unfortunately, the other day I found out about a very disturbing case in Kermit, Texas. Two nurses who were dismayed and disturbed by a physician peddling all manner of herbal supplements reported him to the authorities. Now, they are facing jail:

In a stunning display of good ol’ boy idiocy and abuse of prosecutorial discretion, two West Texas nurses have been fired from their jobs and indicted with a third-degree felony carrying potential penalties of two-to-ten years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000. Why? Because they exercised a basic tenet of the nurse’s Code of Ethics — the duty to advocate for the health and safety of their patients.

The nurses, in their 50s and both members of the American Nurses Association/Texas Nurses Association, reported concerns about a doctor practicing at Winkler County Memorial Hospital in Kermit. They were unamused by his improperly encouraging patients in the hospital emergency department and in the rural health clinic to buy his own herbal “medicines,” and they thought it improper for him to take hospital supplies to perform a procedure at a patient’s home rather than in the hospital. (The doctor did not succeed, as reportedly he was stopped by the hospital chief of staff.)

How can this be? This is how:

The nurses Vicki Galle, RN, and Anne Mitchell, RN, say they were just trying to protect patients when they anonymously reported their concerns April 7 to the Texas Medical Board (TMB). The RNs believed a physician wasn’t living up to ethical practice standards at the 15-bed county hospital where they worked.

The report indicated Rolando Arafiles, MD, one of three physicians on contract with the hospital, improperly encouraged patients at the Winkler County Memorial Hospital emergency department and the county’s rural health clinic to buy herbal supplements from him.

However, because the two nurses worked for a county hospital – and included medical record numbers of the patients in their letter to the TMB in April – the county attorney’s office indicted them on “misuse of official information” – a third-degree felony that carries potential penalties of 2-10 years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000. Additionally, the prosecution asserts the nurses used patient records as part of the evidence they offered to the TMB to “harass or annoy” Arafiles.

Part of what’s so disturbing about this is that complaints to the medical board are supposed to be confidential. Indeed, this sort of retaliation is exactly why such complaints are confidential. Why do I say “retaliation”? Well, certainly there is the suspicious timing of how they were arrested:

Mitchell and Galle, both long-time nurses at the facility, were fired from their positions and were subsequently arrested June 12, just 5 days past the 60-day window that could have been part of the defense to prove retaliation. The two nurses are free on bond of $5,000 each.

Gee, you don’t think that timing was intentional, do you? If that’s not enough, take a look at this account:

The nurses went up their chain of command with their complaints. They got nowhere with their 25-bed rural hospital. So they anonymously turned the doctor into the Texas Medical Board using six medical record numbers of the involved hospital patients .

When the medical board notified the physician that he was under investigation for mistreatment and poor quality of care, he filed a harassment complaint with the Winkler County Sheriff’s Department.

To find out who made the anonymous complaint, the sheriff left no stone unturned. He interviewed all of the patients whose medical record case numbers were listed in the report and asked the hospital to identify who would have had access to the patient records in question.

At some point, the sheriff obtained a copy of the anonymous complaint and used the description of a “female over 50″ to narrow the potential complainants to the two nurses. He then got a search warrant to seize their work computers and found a copy of the letter to the medical board on one of them.

So let’s get this straight. Two nurses, alarmed that a physician was inappropriately peddling herbal remedies that he sells to patients in the emergency room of a small rural hospital in the middle of Nowhere, Texas, try to report him through the chain of command. From here on out, I’m going to try to read between the lines a bit, but I bet my speculation is not too far from the truth. My guess is that Dr. Arafiles is probably either popular or desperately needed in Kermit–or both–and that he’s well-connected in the town. Well, actually, that last part is almost certainly true, as apparently Dr. Arafiles is buddies with the Sheriff (Robert Roberts) and–who knows?–probably Winkler County Attorney Scott Tidwell as well for all we know. The Sheriff, tipped off by his buddy that someone at the hospital was complaining about his questionable choice of venue to peddle his herbal woo, went after Mitchell and Galle as though they had gone on a four county shooting spree and and then, after he figured out who they were, threw the book at them, even though they had no justification in doing so:

The Texas Medical Board sent a letter to the attorneys stating that it is improper to criminally prosecute people for raising complaints with the board; that the complaints were confidential and not subject to subpoena; that the board is exempt from federal HIPAA law; and that, on the contrary, the board depends on reporting from health care professionals to carry out its duty of protecting the public from improper practitioners.

Excerpts from this letter include:

  • Information provided by an individual to the board… is information used by the Board in its governmental capacity as a state agency…Information provided triggering  a  complaint or furthering and investigation by the Board is information provided for a governmental purpose – the regulation of the practice of medicine.
  • …under federal law, the TMB is exempt from the [HIPAA] requirements; therefore, the provision of medical documentation with patient names on them to the Board is not a violation of [HIPAA].

And it’s true. In order to encourage whistleblowing and minimize the chances of retaliation, HIPAA rules don’t apply to complaints to state medical boards. Regardless of the merit of Mitchell and Galle’s complaint, they were well within their rights to report Dr Arafiles to the Texas Medical Board. It doesn’t matter whether they had first gone through the chain of command or not, regardless of what hospital flunkies or apologists for the sheriff say.

This case is bad. Real bad. Nurses and other health care professionals are reluctant enough as it is to report a bad doctor or a doctor peddling dubious therapies as it is. What makes this case particularly outrageous is not only because it appears to be a horrible abuse of power by Sheriff Roberts, but, even worse, it sends the clear and unmistakable message to nurses in Texas: Don’t get out of line or the medical powers that bewill make you pay. They will find out who you are, no matter what it takes to do so, and then they will do everything in their power to retaliate. They’ll even try to throw you in jail if they can figure out a rationale to do so, legal or not. It’s hard enough to go against a doctor as it is, particularly in small towns, where doctors are often considered pillars of the community, making it hard enough to risk the disapproval that would be likely to be directed at any whistleblower. Without legal protections against prosecution for reporting a doctor to the board, confidentiality means nothing if there is someone in a position of power who is determined enough to shred the confidentiality of the complaint (like a county sheriff) and apparently ready to abuse his power to retaliate against the nurses making the complaints.

Even though I’m a bit late to the game, it disgusted me to read about this case. If we are to protect the public from physician misconduct, be it quackery, breaches of ethics, inappropriate sexual behavior, fraud, or whatever, there must be protections for the complainants against retaliation by hospitals or whomever. Quite correctly, the Texas Nurse’s Association is fully backing Mitchell and Galle, and Mitchell and Galle are also filing a civil lawsuit in federal court against the hospital (Winkler County Memorial Hospital), the county attorney, and the sheriff. The complaint alleges:

Specifically, Winkler County had a policy to prohibit any adverse report without first getting the approval of the Board of Control of Winkler County Memorial Hospital and the Medical Staff. This discouraged employees from publicly reporting matters of public concern regarding patient safety and patients’ health and welfare as to how they were being treated that would cast Winkler County or Winkler County Memorial Hospital or Rolando G. Arafiles, Jr. in a negative light.

This sort of miscarriage of justice should not be allowed to stand. TheTexas Nurses Association has set up a legal defense fund for these nurses (a link is on the TNA home page), and I urger SBM readers to contribute. I have. I also encourage SBM readers to write polite letters of protest to the Winkler County District Attorney’s Office. It is a travesty that this retaliation against nurses just trying to do their duty for their patients has been allowed to continue this long and this far. We should do whatever we can to make sure that this pure power play to put a couple of uppity nurses back in their place does not stand.

A Nurse Asks: What Are You Doing For Your Midlife Crisis?

congo-nurse1Nurse Andrea Bartlett is literally having a meltdown. She is in the midst of her midlife crisis. Nurses like her are easy to spot. She’s having a hot flash, note the hand to her forehead and the look on her face that says, “Crap, I’m going to pass out,” and she’s reliving her hippy Peace Corps days by working as a Congo nurse. I bet she is kicking herself for leaving home, especially at her age. After all, who in their right mind would give up their Mac computer and iPhone.


It’s official. I’m having my midlife crisis. I knew I had hit crisis mode the day one of my patients tried eloping from the unit. I saw the patient racing down the hallway towards the door, and my brain said, “Run, catch the patient,” and, after a few strides, my joints started screaming, “Brain, we hurt. Go to hell.” Fortunately, the techs and a few nurses, all of whom are youngsters, ran right pass me like little gazelles and effortlessly caught the patient before he bolted off the unit. I felt like a relic. I wanted to cry all day long.

debchair3If anyone over the age of 55 tells you that they aren’t going through their midlife crisis, they are in denial, or they are lying through their teeth. I started making some changes at home after that fateful day at work. I can’t afford a facelift, a tummy tuck, or a red sports car, so I started redecorating my living room, a la Peter Max. I said goodbye to my Martha Stewart country living room by replacing everything that was made from gingham and lace with burgundy silk pillows, hand blown glass bottles, and Bakhtiari carpets. I even scored this 1960s leather chair, matching footstool, and hoop lamp from one of my best friends. Yeah, they’re groovy. I can’t wait for my husband to finish off my bookshelves. Maybe I’ll start a new hookah collection when he’s done.

Having a midlife crisis isn’t just about getting gray hair, saggy boobs, and a wider girth. It’s about getting to know who you really are as you hit the midpoint of your life. This midlife journey is especially bewildering and fear provoking for nurses. Everyone is in a big hurry to get an advanced nursing degree before “it’s too late.” Too late for what? I see nurses frantically checking out school websites, and exchanging information about online classes. Some nurses want to expand their knowledge base so they won’t have to work as bedside nurses anymore, while others want to go back to school because of a mandate put out by the ANA. The ANA doesn’t recognize anyone without a nursing degree as a professional nurse. The ANA can kiss my ass. I’m not going back to school, and I refuse to burst one brain cell over a class assignment that has no relevance in my life.

beatlesstereo2God willing, I have at least twenty-five years before I check out of the world and I plan to have some fun before I head for the Pearly Gates. My short-term goal is to buy the new Beatles Boxed set in stereo and to finish redecorating my house. I’m going to light up some incense, play my tunes, and party on. My long-term goal is to make love, not war, get on the peace train, and to follow the sun.

Can you dig it?

*This blog post was originally published at Nurse Ratched's Place*

Latest Interviews

How To Make Inpatient Medical Practice Fun Again: Try Locum Tenens Work

It s no secret that most physicians are unhappy with the way things are going in healthcare. Surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction burn out and even suicide. In fact some believe that up to a third of the US physician work force is planning to leave the profession…

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Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

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Latest Cartoon

Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

***

Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

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Latest Book Reviews

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

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