University Hospital boss talks changes after nurse arrest, says ‘this will not happen again’


(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gordon Crabtree, CEO of University of Utah Hospital speaks at a press conference held at the U of U Medical Center regarding policy changes resulting from the arrest of nurse Alex Wubbels, Monday, September 4, 2017.

Administrators at University Hospital said Monday they have already changed policies so nurses, like the one who was arrested earlier this summer for refusing to draw a patient’s blood, no longer interact with police. 

At a news conference Monday, Gordon Crabtree, the interim chief executive officer of University Hospital, said the nurse, Alex Wubbels, upheld hospital policy and patient privacy despite her July 26 arrest.

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

The Labor Day news conference occurred on the same day Wubbels spoke on the ”TODAY Show.” She said while the discussions she’s had with the Salt Lake City Police Department have been progressive, she released the police body camera video Thursday because she felt University Hospital and the campus police force had not appropriately responded to the episode.

Crabtree took time Monday to praise Wubbels and to describe changes that have been implemented. Crabtree also said the University of Utah’s attorneys are considering whether to take action against Salt Lake City police and Jeff Payne, the detective who arrested Wubbels. Crabtree didn’t elaborate. 

“His actions were out of line,” Crabtree said of Payne. “There’s absolutely no tolerance for that kind of behavior in our hospital.”

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Margaret Pearce, Chief of Nursing at the University of Utah Hospital speaks at a press conference held at the U of U Medical Center regarding policy changes resulting from the arrest of nurse Alex Wubbels, Monday, September 4, 2017.

On July 26, Payne wanted Wubbels to draw the blood of 43-year-old William Gray, who was unconscious after being involved in a fiery crash earlier in the day in Logan. Wubbels refused, citing hospital policy against drawing the blood of someone without that person’s consent or without a warrant for arrest.

Thursday, bodycam video was released of Payne shouting at Wubbels and handcuffing and arresting her on suspicion of obstruction of justice. Police released her after about 20 minutes.

The video went viral and was picked up by many national news outlets. It drew nationwide criticism last week.

Payne has been placed on leave pending an internal investigation by Salt Lake City police and the city’s Civilian Review Board. Salt Lake County’s Unified Police Department has opened a criminal investigation at the request of District Attorney Sim Gill.

Crabtree said the hospital staffers are doing everything in their power to support Wubbels in the aftermath of the arrest.

“We have a traumatized nurse and a traumatized team,” Crabtree said referring to the burn unit.

Wubbels returned to the burn unit about a week-and-a-half after the arrest, said Margaret Pearce, chief of nursing. But her schedule is flexible so that she can take as much time as she needs.

“Alex took the time she needed,” Pearce said. “We’ve been playing it by ear with her.”

Nurses will no longer interact with police, Pearce said. That will be left to hospital administrators.

“We have to make sure this never, ever happens again,” Pearce said. “I was appalled at the events of July 26. She was advocating for the rights of her patient. She did this beautifully.”

The new policy, which was implemented in mid-August, will require police to interact with the hospital supervisor. It also will prevent law enforcement officials from entering the emergency room, burn unit or other patient areas in the hospital.

Crabtree and Pearce said the new policy began to be developed within hours of Wubbels’ arrest.

“As the CEO of this hospital, I take this very seriously,” Crabtree said. “We must stand together and make sure this is what it should be, a place for healing and a place for safety.”

Wubbels and her attorney, Karra Porter, said they released the video because police were not taking the event seriously. Porter has said her client does not necessarily want to file a lawsuit, but wants changes from both the Salt Lake City police force and police and security forces at the University of Utah. 

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dale Brophy, University Chief of Police, and director of public safety speaks at a press conference held at the U of U Medical Center regarding policy changes resulting from the arrest of nurse Alex Wubbels, Monday, September 4, 2017. At left is Margaret Pearce, Chief of Nursing, and at right is Gordon Crabtree, CEO of University of Utah Hospital.

University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy took an apologetic tone when he said he didn’t understand the gravity of the incident until he saw the body camera video.

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

Apparently following protocol, two university police or security officers stood by during the arrest. Brophy said all of his officers will get training in de-escalation techniques. It remains unclear, however, whether university police will engage Salt Lake City officers differently in the future.

Nonetheless, Crabtree said that when it comes to University Hospital and its new policy, such an incident cannot take place again.