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Clash Between Detective and Nurse Over Blood Draw Spurs Changes in Hospital Policies.

Hospitals are likely to upgrade their security policies after a video showing a July 26 altercation between a burn unit nurse and a police detective in Salt Lake City went viral. The detective became irate when the nurse, following legal and hospital policies, declined to allow him to draw blood from an unconscious patient.

The patient had been involved earlier that day in a serious truck accident, but was not suspected of any wrongdoing. The truck he was driving had been front-ended by a pickup truck that crossed a median while evading a police chase. The patient was admitted to the University of Utah Hospital unconscious and with severe burns.

Detective Jeff Payne, who followed the patient to the hospital, insisted that nurse Alex Wubbels allow him to perform a blood test on the crash victim. Wubbels repeatedly informed the detective that hospital policy prohibited drawing blood from a patient who was unconscious, had not consented to the procedure, and was not under arrest.

Despite nurse Wubbels being backed-up by her supervisor via phone conference, Detective Payne reportedly "snapped," manhandled the nurse, handcuffed her and strapped her into the front seat of a police car for allegedly obstructing justice. Although charges against Wubbels were not pursued after the hospital's COO intervened, she subsequently obtained videos of the incident taken by the officer's body camera and uploaded them to social media, where they quickly went viral and were featured on national news programs.

Both hospital protocols and legal precedents support the nurse's refusal to allow police to draw the unconscious patient's blood. Hospital policy requires that police have either a warrant or the patient's consent to obtain a blood sample. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police must obtain a warrant to test the blood of motorists suspected of drunken driving. (In that case the court drew a distinction between a blood test a breathalyzer test, which is less invasive and does not require a warrant.)

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski and Police Chief Mike Brown apologized Sept. 1 for the conduct of Payne. It took the police department a full month, however, to place Payne and a fellow officer who accompanied Payne to the scene, on administrative leave.

The altercation and resulting national publicity have led the Utah university hospital to impose new restrictions on law enforcement, including barring officers from patient-care areas and from direct contact with nurses. Under an agreement formed with the Salt Lake City police, law enforcement personnel henceforth will register at the hospital's front desk and make their requests through hospital administrators rather than asking frontline providers directly.

The incident is also likely to spur hospital administrators elsewhere to evaluate their policies surrounding police access to patients. An Arizona nursing consultant told Modern Healthcare that police requests to draw blood from patients without an arrest, a warrant, or consent are common around the country. Nurses and emergency department staff often comply because they are busy or don't know their hospital's policy. That level of complicity is destined to change following nurse Hubbel's heroic actions to protect her patient's legal rights.

by AMT Legal Counsel

Michael N. McCarty

Michael N. McCarty Law Office PLLC, Washington, DC
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Title Annotation:government news
Author:McCarty, Michael N.
Publication:AMT Events
Geographic Code:1U8UT
Date:Sep 1, 2017
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