It was far from the first time a nurse was put in a difficult situation with a police officer demanding she do something, but the 2017 case of nurse Alex Wubbels, RN, was a sensational illustration of how much can go wrong.
The Wubbels case drew attention to hospital policies and procedures regarding subpoenas and other demands from law enforcement, particularly how frontline clinicians can be left on their own to refuse sometimes aggressive police officers. The arrest of Wubbels was even facilitated by her own hospital’s security guards.
Wubbels was a charge nurse at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. Police detective Jeff Payne demanded hospital staff draw blood from the patient, or he wanted to do it himself because he worked off duty as a paramedic and the police department authorized him to draw blood for investigations.
Wubbels refused, explaining that she could not allow the blood draw without a warrant or the patient’s permission. Payne arrested Wubbels, dragging her out of the hospital as she cried for help. Hospital security guards stood by without helping, and one opened a door for Payne as he took Wubbels out.
The police department fired Payne and demoted his supervisor to officer. The city settled with Wubbels for $500,000. Payne told media outlets in November 2018 that he was not sorry for his actions.
For more on the Utah case, see “Nurse Arrest Puts Focus on Hospital Security, Policies” and related stories in Healthcare Risk Management, November 2017, available online at: https://bit.ly/2IccmU6.