Salt Lake Valley police, nursing group announce policy for hospital interactions after Utah nurse’s arrest

(Salt Lake City Police Department/Courtesy of Karra Porter) In this July 26, 2017, frame grab from video taken from a police body camera and provided by attorney Karra Porter, nurse Alex Wubbels is arrested by a Salt Lake City police officer at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. The Utah police department is making changes after the officer dragged Wubbels out of the hospital in handcuffs when she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient.

Salt Lake Valley police and a Utah nursing organization on Thursday announced a new protocol for interactions between police and hospital staff, in the wake of the arrest of University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels.

Aimee McLean, president of the Utah Nurses Association, said the new policy “clarifies the work of police and helps nurses — who provide direct care to patients — to know what to anticipate when working with law enforcement.”

The policy directs police to check in with hospital security guards and the nurse in charge when they arrive at an emergency room, informing them of their presence and purpose of the visit. If officers need to visit patients elsewhere in the hospital, they should first check in with the a supervisor to obtain permission, and explain their needs and if they have a search warrant or similar legal circumstance.

McClean, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown and Sandy Police Chief Kevin Thacker announced the new policy at a Salt Lake City news conference Thursday. Brown and Thacker said police chiefs across the Salt Lake Valley, part of the Valley Police Alliance, have agreed to implement the policy. A policy for police dealing with hospital staff never existed before.

“It’s one of those things you really don’t think you’re going to have to have as a written policy,” Thacker said, indicating that some of the policy’s language should be common sense for law enforcement.

But the policy’s creation is the direct result of the arrest of Wubbels by Salt Lake City police Detective Jeff Payne on July 26. The encounter — which included Payne grabbing and shoving the nurse — was captured on body cameras and sparked national outrage, including among state and national nursing groups.

”[This policy] gives nurses a little reassurance that they now have a strict plan, and, with that plan, the intent is that nurses will not leave the hospital in handcuffs,” McClean said.

While the Wubbels arrest was what triggered the new policy, McClean indicated that a similar policy may have been needed earlier. “We certainly have heard, anecdotally, that this is not a thing that has never happened before,” she said of nurses encountering aggressive police officers, though she also said most interactions are respectful.

Brown said he met with hospitals around Salt Lake City, and several elsewhere, to develop the new policy. Generally police have “great interactions” with nurses and other hospital staff, he said. “We are cut from the same cloth,” he said of nurses and police officers, adding that both professions are about “love and service.”

“This just gives us all a foundational-type policy that spells out how we’re going to interact [with hospital staff], the courtesy of checking in, letting people know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Brown said of the policy.

On Thursday evening, Wubbels’ attorney, Karra Porter, said her client “is very grateful for the support she has received from the Utah Nurses Association.”

“The UNA has been actively working to protect nurses throughout the valley since learning of this incident,” Porter said in a news release. “The only entity that does not appear to be addressing needed policy changes is University Police/hospital security. Chief Brophy has admitted that no investigation was ever undertaken, despite the fact that a University Police officer physically assisted in the illegal arrest.”

U. police Chief Dale Brophy confirmed Wednesday that no officers or security personnel faced formal discipline as a result of the arrest, and that there were no internal investigations.

Also on Wednesday, University Hospital rolled out its own, similar policy for interactions with police. That arrest led to Salt Lake City police changing their policies involving patient blood draws.

The encounter between Wubbels and Payne occurred when Payne demanded that she allow him to draw blood from an unconscious patient injured in a fiery Cache County crash. She pointed out that the crash victim was not under arrest, that Payne did not have a warrant to obtain the blood and that he could not obtain consent, because the man was unconscious. Payne then arrested the nurse.

Brown fired Payne on Tuesday after an internal affairs investigation. The chief also demoted Lt. James Tracy, the supervisor who ordered the arrest, to the rank of police officer, effective Wednesday.

On Thursday, McClean said she was proud of Wubbels’ actions.

“She absolutely did the right thing.”