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When nurses and law enforcement collide

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December 1, 2017

Violent incident in Utah highlights professional responsibility, patient privacy, and ethics

In a profession where staff members are four times as likely to be assaulted on the job compared to other professions, one would like to think nurses wouldn’t have to worry about that kind of violence coming from a police officer.

A July incident in a Salt Lake City hospital shows that’s not always the case.

The July 26 incident took place at the University of Utah Hospital between Jeff Payne, a detective with the Salt Lake City Police Department, and Alex Wubbels, a nurse in the burn unit of the hospital. In footage of the incident captured by the officer’s body camera, Wubbels politely but firmly insisted that police could not collect blood samples from a badly injured patient, and she refused to comply with the officer’s request for a blood draw. Payne didn’t have a warrant, Wubbels pointed out, and the patient wasn’t conscious, so he couldn’t give consent.

That alone should have been the end of it, as Wubbels also cited hospital policy in the video and showed the officer a printout of the policy. Payne, clearly agitated, proceeded to grab the nurse in a violent manner, shove her out of the building, and cuff her hands behind her back. Wubbels, clearly scared on the video, screamed “Help me!” and “You’re assaulting me!” as the detective forced her into an unmarked car and accused her of interfering with an investigation.

Wubbels ultimately was not criminally charged in the incident, but she immediately went public with the case, playing the footage at news conferences with her attorney. The incident led to a public apology from the Salt Lake City police chief, and Payne was later fired from the police department.

“The decision [to fire Payne] is in keeping with the high level of accountability we owe the people of Salt Lake City,” Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a report on CNN. “In making his decision, I am confident Chief Brown balanced the unique stresses each of our police officers deal with daily, and the responsibility they have as leaders in our community.”

Biskupski said the internal investigation found that Payne violated several city and department policies, including those pertaining to arrests, ethics, and officer conduct.

Support for nurse rights

While Wubbels ultimately won the day in the Salt Lake City incident, the way she was treated attracted a loud response from the Utah Nurses Association, which issued a statement that it was “deeply disturbed” by the video and raised attention to the fact that nurses have an “ethical duty to act in the best interest of our patients at all times and in all settings.”



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