After a tense encounter between a nurse and a police officer drew widespread outrage, a Utah hospital said its nurses will no longer be allowed to interact with law enforcement agents.
“I need to make sure this never, ever, ever happens to another one of our care providers again,” said Margaret Pearce, chief nursing officer at the University of Utah Hospital.
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The decision follows the arrest of nurse Alex Wubbels after she refused to let police officers draw blood from an unconscious crash victim. The July 26 arrest was captured on body-cam video and has prompted apologies from Salt Lake City’s mayor and police.
The new hospital protocol was announced Monday by Pearce, hospital leadership and the university’s police chief during a news conference.
Instead of interacting with nurses, law enforcement officers will be directed to health supervisors “who are highly trained on rules and laws,” and those interactions won’t take place in patient care areas, officials said.
The new protocol was implemented two weeks after the incident, and so far, 2,500 nurses have been trained in it, Pearce said.
The hospital’s CEO, Gordon Crabtree, described Wubbels as an “Olympic-sized hero,” praising her for acting with the highest level of integrity and professionalism, even as she risked her own safety to ensure the privacy of her patient.
“This type of situation won’t happen again,” he said. “We simply will not let Alex down.”
‘I’ve done nothing wrong!’
Citing hospital policy, Wubbels last month refused to let officers draw blood from an unconscious crash victim who had been admitted to the University of Utah Hospital burn unit in a coma. Though the man was not a suspect in the wreck, which killed another driver, police asked for his blood to be drawn.
Wubbels, the charge nurse in the burn unit, presented the officers with a printout of the hospital’s policy for drawing blood and said their request did not meet the criteria. Hospital policy specified that before obtaining a blood sample, police needed a judge’s order or the patient’s consent, or the patient needed to be under arrest.
The university and Salt Lake City police had agreed to the policy more than a year ago, but “the officers here appeared to be unaware of” it during the July incident, Wubbels’ attorney, Karra Porter, said Friday.
After Wubbels’ refusal, the video shows police Det. Jeff Payne walk quickly over to Wubbels, who backs away as he says, “Oh, please. We’re done here. We’re done. We’re done.”
Wubbels shrieks as Payne forces her out the door toward a police car. She screams for him to stop, saying, “I’ve done nothing wrong! I’ve done nothing wrong! Why is this happening? This is crazy!” She also asks why the officer is “so angry.”
Payne handcuffed Wubbels and placed her in a police car, where she sat for about 20 minutes, according to CNN affiliate KSL. She was later released without charge. Payne and another officer have been placed on administrative leave pending the results of an investigation.
‘I stood my ground’
Before Monday’s news conference, Wubbels and Porter had appeared on CNN’s “New Day” to discuss the confrontation.
While they are considering legal action, “I think we’re going to give everyone involved an opportunity to do the right thing without having to be dragged into court to do it,” Porter said.
Wubbels explained that she managed to get the body-cam video weeks ago but waited to release it until she felt she was composed enough to talk about what happened.
“I feel pretty strongly in just having, sort of, a good strong ability to stand up without emotion. And I need to afford myself some time to feel OK and to be able to talk pragmatically about the situation without the emotion,” she said.
Wubbels said she has no idea how the situation escalated.
“What I can say is that I stood my ground. I stood for what was right, which was to protect the patient. As a nurse, any nurse, I think, would have done exactly what I did,” she said.
Wubbels said she was “scared to death” during the incident.
“Obviously, I was very frightened, and I think that since this has happened, I’ve been able to, sort of, surmise that I feel betrayed,” she said. “I feel betrayed by the police officers. I feel betrayed by my university police and security.”
Wubbels asked hospital security for help “to have someone protect me because I felt unsafe from Officer Payne from the beginning,” she said.
How did the university police and security respond? “By just standing there, looking at their phones,” she said, “telling me that they couldn’t protect me.”