Medical personnel face difficult situations every day at work. However, one nurse’s experience in a Utah hospital comes close to taking the cake. It was just a regular day for Alex Wubbels at the University of Utah hospital’s burn unit, where she was a charge nurse. Moments later, police wheeled in a badly burned man – and asked nurse Wubbels for a blood test to be done.

Wubbles then showed the officers a copy of the hospital’s policy, which clearly stipulated that no blood sample could be taken from a patient unless consent is given. She went on to add that blood can also be taken if there was an electronic warrant, or if the man was under arrest – but, neither of these scenarios happened.

After a short argument, one of the police officers, Jeff Payne appeared to lose his cool and was heard yelling “We’re done! We’re done here!” before lunging at the nurse in what many viewed as sheer violent intimidation of a medical personnel who was just doing her job. He proceeded to drag Wubbels across the hall; later pinning her to a wall and handcuffing her.

Nurse Wubbels hailed as a hero

The viral video, which comes from a police bodycam, has caused shock waves throughout the medical community – both in the US and around the world. The reactions are so strong, mainly because of how nurse Wubbels was dragged screaming and how she was heard desperately pleading for Payne to stop hurting her.

Earlier in the day, police received a call from the public about a Chevrolet Silverado driving in an erratic manner, and had engaged in a high-speed chase with that car. Along the way, the Chevrolet driver made a sudden swerve, crashing dramatically into an oncoming semi truck and bursting into flames. The Chevy driver died on the spot.

From the semi truck, William Gray struggled out, covered in flames and severely injured. The fire was immediately put out and Gray rushed to the hospital; but, by this time he had fallen into a coma. This was when Gray was pushed into nurse Wubbels department at the University of Utah Hospital.

Officer Payne, who had accompanied the injured Gray to hospital, promptly demanded a blood test be done. He claimed that they needed to find out whether Gray was under the influence of any substances like drugs or alcohol. Payne claimed that it was for Gray’s protection; but some postulate that he and his colleagues were hoping to pin some of the blame for the crash on Gray, thereby protecting themselves from allegations of dangerous driving.

Whatever the case, nurse Wubbel’s actions of refusing to draw blood from an unconscious patient has drawn praise from both her own hospital authorities, and members of the police force. The University of Utah Hospital has also issued a warning to the police not to intimidate their staff members, and set up policies banning policemen from setting foot into patient care areas and coming into direct contact with nurses.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) was outraged, upon learning the incident – calling it “outrageous and unacceptable”. The association has since released a press statement defending nurse Wubbles, and calling for an investigation by the Salt Lake City Police Department.

The whole case however, has raised many issues, especially with how the policemen at the scene used violence to handle the whole situation. Additionally, as medical health personnel, how far do you defend hospital policy and the privacy of your patient when threatened by law enforcers?

Patients’ rights come first

The answer to that question is pretty clear. Soon after the events in the video, officer Payne was fired from his part-time job as a Paramedic and has been put on administrative leave (together with his superior) by the Salt Lake City Police Department, pending investigation.

The condemnation of the law enforcers and the support for nurse Wubbels is a clear indication that patient’s rights always come first, especially with regards to drawing blood. The usual blood test results of any patient do not just reveal what illegal substances they’ve ingested, but also very personal information like what diseases they have, their genetic lineage as well as their current health conditions.

The US law expressly forbids the release of this information to any party, unless some criteria are met. This includes being under arrest or having a warrant out for the blood test results. The only other way to obtain the blood works of any patient is through their consent.

The importance of informed consent is drummed into nurses and other medical professionals as part of their training everywhere in the world, and it can’t be compromised. Nurse Wubbels, who was once a professional skier and Olympian, showed true grit and strength of character when she decided to stand firm against her aggressors. No doubt, she will serve as an inspiration to nurses everywhere. MIMS

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