Nurse's Forceful Arrest Prompts Policy Changes

Marcia Frellick

September 06, 2017

Procedures have been changed at University of Utah Hospital days after a video was released showing a nurse, who was protecting her unconscious patient from a blood draw by police, handcuffed, arrested, and forcibly moved from the hospital's burn unit into a patrol car by a Salt Lake City detective.

The new policy requires police officers to interact directly with the hospital supervisor, according to a report by the Salt Lake Tribune. Also, according to Gordon Crabtree, University of Utah Hospital's interim chief executive officer, and Chief Nursing Officer Margaret Pearce, PhD, officers will not interact with frontline staff and will also not be allowed to enter certain patient areas such as the emergency department or burn unit.

The nurse, Alex Wubbels, and her attorney released footage from police body cameras and the burn unit in a press conference Thursday that showed her encounter July 26 with Salt Lake City detective Jeff Payne.

Nurse Alex Wubbels speaks during an interview Friday, September 1, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

In it, she explains to Payne that police need a warrant or consent from the patient or had to put the patient under arrest before she could allow a blood draw. Payne acknowledged that none of those three conditions had been met, but said he still has the authority to take the blood.

Payne then handcuffed Wubbels and shoved her into a patrol car. He wrote later in a report that he needed to take the blood to see if the driver, involved in a fatal crash, had illicit substances in his blood.

The footage drew widespread condemnation in comments posted to news organizations, including Medscape Medical News , demanding action against the officer and changes in policy.

"Outrageous" Actions

A petition on change.org advocating using the incident to raise awareness of dangers to frontline healthcare staff had close to 600,000 signatures  by Wednesday afternoon.

Jean Ross, RN, copresident of National Nurses United called the actions "outrageous."

"The first job of a registered nurse is always to protect and advocate for her patient, period," Ross said in a statement following the release of the arrest video.

The Salt Lake City police department announced Friday that it had put Payne and a second unnamed employee on paid administrative leave "pending the results of an investigation."

The Tribune reported that Salt Lake County's Unified Police Department has opened a criminal investigation at the request of District Attorney Sim Gill.

The paper reported that University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy said the video made him understand the seriousness of the incident.

"My reaction changed after viewing the video," he said. "She shouldn't have been hauled off in handcuffs."

At a news conference Monday Crabtree praised Wubbels, according to the Tribune.

"Her actions are nothing less than exemplary," Crabtree said. "She handled the situation with utmost courage and integrity."

Wubbels appeared on the Today show Monday with her attorney, Karra Porter. Though a lawsuit has not been ruled out, Porter said, Wubbels is mostly interested in protecting other nurses from a similar confrontation.

When asked whether the same accountability would have been seen had a video not been aired, Wubbels said she couldn't answer that.

"Most people that this happens to don't have this kind of evidence," Porter said about the arrest video.

"I feel a sense of urgency for this conversation,'' Wubbels said in the "Today" interview.  "We need to make this better. This can't be happening, it should've never happened, and if I have anything to say about it, it won't ever happen again."

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