The videos showing the arrest of nurse Alex Wubbels are disturbing to many viewers, but especially to risk managers and other healthcare professionals who understand the dilemma faced by a clinician trying to comply with hospital policy and the law when law enforcement demands otherwise.
The arrest at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City happened in July, but the videos surfaced only recently when Wubbels made public statements about her experience. (An 18½-minute video of the arrest is available online at: http://bit.ly/2yYdJOH. Shorter clips also are available online, but portray less of the interaction before and after the actual arrest.)
The video from another officer’s bodycam begins after Salt Lake City police detective Jeff Payne demanded a blood draw from an unconscious burn patient on Wubbels’ unit. Wubbels explained that she could not allow the blood draw without a warrant or the patient’s permission, but the detective insisted and threatened to arrest her if she did not comply. At the beginning of the video, Wubbels is on the phone with the nurse manager explaining the situation, while Payne tells a colleague that his supervisor has instructed him to arrest the nurse if she does not comply.
The hospital’s house supervisor is present and also on the phone with someone at this time. One hospital police officer and two hospital security officers are standing by.
Five minutes into the video, Wubbels presents Payne and the other officer with a copy of the hospital’s policy on what is required to comply with a law enforcement request for a blood draw. She explains that the nurse manager instructed her to print the policy and give it to them, and she puts the nurse manager on speaker as she does so. “This is something you guys agreed to with this hospital,” Wubbels says, showing the policy. “The three things that allow us to do that are if you have an electronic warrant, the patient’s consent, or the patient under arrest. The patient can’t consent, he’s [gesturing to Payne] told me repeatedly he doesn’t have a warrant, and that he is not under arrest.”
Wubbels’ demeanor is entirely calm and cooperative. “I’m just trying to do what I’m supposed to do. That’s all,” she says.
Payne asks her to confirm that if one of those requirements is not fulfilled, she is not allowing the blood draw. At that point the nurse manager can be heard telling her, “Alex, you’re not representing University Hospital” and asks why Payne is blaming her. She says she doesn’t know and when the nurse manager asks Payne, he responds, “She’s the one that has told me no.”
The nurse manager says, “Sir, you’re making a huge mistake right now because you’re threatening a nurse.” At that moment, Payne says, “OK, we’re done,” and reaches for Wubbels’ arm, the one she is using to hold the cellphone near Payne. Wubbels reacts by moving her arm away and stepping backward. Payne moves forward aggressively toward Wubbels as she backs away.
Payne repeats “We’re done” and tells Wubbels she is under arrest. She continues backing away until she backs into one of the hospital security officers, who reaches out to her. It is not clear if the officer was trying to contain her for Payne, but he does not say or do anything to interfere with the arrest.
As Payne initially grabs Wubbels, the house supervisor says “Sir, I have administration coming.”
Wubbels screams and cries out as Payne roughly grabs her by the arm and moves toward the hospital exit. One of the security guards who was present at the beginning of the video holds the exit button for the automatic doors so Payne can force Wubbels out of the building. That guard is on the phone at this point.
Wubbels becomes very emotional as she taken out of the building and clings to the exterior doorjamb as Payne prepares to handcuff her. “Someone help me! Stop! You’re assaulting me! I’ve done nothing wrong!” she sobs.
The house supervisor and a hospital police officer follow them outside, the supervisor saying something to the guard as they walk. The hospital police officer puts his hand on Payne’s shoulder and says something but immediately backs away. The house supervisor again explains to Payne that a hospital administrator is on the way. Another hospital employee appears and tells Payne the arrest is unnecessary.
Once Wubbels is handcuffed, she looks to the officer recording the incident and says, “Why is he so angry?”
Payne forces Wubbels to his car. When she screams that he is hurting her, Payne says, “Then walk!” She says again that he is hurting her and looks to the house supervisor in tears, saying, “What is going on? What is going on?”
Payne places Wubbels in his police car. His supervisor arrives and speaks to Wubbels, telling her that the hospital policy must yield to a legal demand from law enforcement. The nurse explains that she was following her employer’s instructions and trying to protect her patient, and that the blood test they want wouldn’t be valid anyway because the patient received medications for comfort.
“If we’re doing wrong, there are civil remedies,” the supervising officer says. “It’s called fruit of the poisonous tree. If we take his blood illegally, it all goes away. So, there are civil remedies if we make a mistake. What I’m telling you is we are not making a mistake.”
He then discusses the legal requirements more, disagreeing with Wubbels’ understanding of the law. Wubbels repeats that she was only following the orders of her hospital superiors. He asks her if she knows whether the patient was a resident of Utah, and when she says she has no idea, he gets exasperated and says, “So, why are you involved in this? You don’t have anything to do with this!”
Wubbels calmly replies, “Because I’m the charge nurse of the unit where he was admitted.”
The supervising officer finishes speaking to Wubbels and the house supervisor asks if he will speak to the hospital privacy officer on the phone. He refuses, saying he doesn’t need another reiteration of a policy intended to protect the hospital from liability.
“Your policy is contravening what I need legally,” he says. “There is a very bad habit up here of your policy interfering with my law.”