MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The National Nurses United association occasionally uses the slogan, "Stop the Violence. Heal America." This slogan became particularly pertinent to the profession when a Salt Lake City nurse was roughed up, handcuffed and arrested in late July for following hospital policy, sanctioned by court decisions. She refused to provide a city police officer with a blood sample from an unconscious patient. In this case, clearly, the police weren't stopping violence but precipitating it -- in a hospital, of all places.
On September 1, National Nurses United strongly condemned the action in a news release:
National Nurses United today criticized the actions of Salt Lake City police officers for assaulting and arresting a University of Utah registered nurse for advocating for an unconscious patient in late July.
In a press conference yesterday RN Alex Wubbels, released a video and described how she was assaulted and arrested and handcuffed by police, even after a hospital supervisor confirmed to the officers she was in full compliance with hospital policy for refusing to allow police to take a blood sample from an unconscious patient without his consent.
“The first job of a registered nurse is always to protect and advocate for her patient, period,” said Jean Ross, RN, co-president of National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union and professional association of RNs, calling the police actions “outrageous.”
“As the videos and news accounts make clear, there is no excuse for this assault, or her arrest, which sends a chilling message about the safety of nurses and the rights of patients,” Ross said.
Hospitals are not immune from violence. For example, personal disputes that result in injury sometimes are extended into the facilities by the feuding parties. This also impacts health care workers, as the National Nurses United press release mentions:
Workers in the healthcare and social assistance industry face extremely high rates of workplace violence. In 2014, 52 percent of all the incidents of workplace violence reported to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) occurred against workers in the healthcare and social assistance industry. And the rates have been increasing; between 2005 and 2014, rates of workplace violence incidents have increased 110 percent in private industry hospitals.
However, it is particularly egregious when the police are acting violent toward and criminalizing frontline caretakers, such as Nurse Wubbels. These practices represent how police can endanger the health of a community, instead of making it healthier.
On September 1, the Salt Lake City Police Department got around to apologizing to Nurse Wubbels for the officer's actions, which were confirmed by a video from a body camera worn by the arresting cop. According to CNN,
Salt Lake City police apologized Friday for arresting a nurse who, citing hospital policy, refused to let officers draw blood from an unconscious crash victim. The arrest of Alex Wubbels, who was later released without charge, was captured on body camera video that the police chief said was alarming.
The incident happened July 26, when a crash victim was admitted to the University of Utah Hospital burn unit in a coma. Though the man was not a suspect in the wreck, which killed the other driver, police asked for his blood to be drawn.
Wubbels, the charge nurse in the burn unit, presented the officers with a printout of hospital policy on drawing blood and said their request did not meet the criteria. Hospital policy specified police needed either a judge's order or the patient's consent, or the patient needed to be under arrest, before obtaining a blood sample.
"I'm just trying to do what I'm supposed to do. That's all," Wubbels tells the officers, according to the body camera video.
The incident was disclosed publicly after unsuccessful discussion between the hospital, the nurses' attorney and the police. After the mistreatment and arrest became public, Det. Jeff Payne -- the arresting officer -- was placed on full administrative leave.
CNN describes one segment of the body camera tape,
Wubbels shrieks as Payne forces her out the door toward a police car. She screams for him to stop, saying, "I've done nothing wrong! I've done nothing wrong! Why is this happening? This is crazy!"
Wubbels and the arresting officer are white. For people of color, the type of violence Wubbels faced often characterizes daily encounters with law enforcement officers. The Wubbels incident may have received mainstream corporate media coverage because the wrongful arrest occurred in a hospital, or because the victim was a white nurse. However, the abuse of police powers is no isolated incident, particularly in communities of color.