Unlawful arrest of Nurse Alex Wubbels – a nurse’s thoughts

Alex Wubbels

As many in the nursing world, I have been mildly obsessed with the unlawful arrest of Nurse Alex Wubbels. In hospitals around the county, there is a brotherhood and camaraderie between our law enforcement officers and health care workers, especially nurses. We all are literally on the front line of public service on a daily basis. So when I see something like this, I just cannot wrap my head around it. I have been wanting to get my thoughts out for a while, but I wanted to get all the facts first, cool down, and really analyze what happened.

In case you don’t know the full story, Nurse Beth over at NurseCode.com does a fantastic job laying out all the details. It is an incredible story of a nurse just demonstrating what we do every day, every shift – advocating and protecting our patients.

Although the situation originally happened over a month ago on July 26, the story finally was brought to the public eye on Thursday, Aug 31 after Nurse Wubbels held a press conference and released the body cam video of her unlawful arrest while working. When I first saw the story start circulating, my initial suspicions were high – maybe we didn’t have all the facts. I watched the video and was truly disgusted and immediately angered by what I saw. I haven’t stop seeking information since. (Ok, maybe mildly obsessed!)

Like someone kicking a hornet’s nest, the swarm of nurses immediately were buzzing. This is the third act of violence against a nurse we have seen in recent months with this one coming from a police officer who clearly was in the wrong and has serious anger management issues. It was just insane and hard to wrap my head around.

Thankfully, the national news began running the story and attention from non-nurses was growing strength. A Change.org petition was started and in just 24 hours, over 100,000 signatures were obtained. We were clearly upset and nothing appeared to be happening – this detective was still working, although not allowed to be on the blood draw team – this had to change.

Nurses and others called the Salt Lake City Police Department, left messages with city leaders and in 21st century style, went directly to the sources via the power of social media. The fire had been started.

By mid-morning, Sept 1, the Univ of Utah issued a statement of support for Nurse Alex Wubbels, to which a community of nurses breathed a sigh of relief – administration was on her side in full support. Finally, administration and nursing on the same side of a fight – stranger things have happened I guess. It was clear from the statement that immediate actions were taken to change the procedure and prevent a bedside nurse from being in that situation in the future. Other hospitals might want to take note.

In the early afternoon of Sept 1, the Mayor and Chief of Police issued an official statement. Basically, it just re-iterated that an ongoing investigation was in the process. The Mayor makes some interesting remarks in her statement. First, the first time she heard about the incident was when she saw it in the media – clearly she needs some better oversight and communication with her police department. And secondly, since she took office they have been working to “increase our use of de-escalation techniques and we have had great success, and this incident is a troubling set back to those efforts”. Clearly they have much deeper problems and this incident is just a symptom.

As the public outcry continued, an announcement was released by the Salt Lake City Police Department stating that the District Attorney was launching a criminal investigation into the incident and that the two officers involved were finally placed on leave. Although not the ideal solution, due process needs to happen. But, personally, if this is the way he reacted to a nurse in a public place knowing his body cam was on, I don’t want to imagine what he does when he feels truly provoked or in danger. So, I am glad he is off the streets.

I would suggest you watch the full footage of the officer who is with Detective Payne – in a few words, it is disturbing the conversations that led up to the unlawful arrest, and even more concerning was that the intimidation continued as Nurse Wubbels was detained in the car in handcuffs.

 

A few concerns become immediately apparent. The officers were locked and loaded and ready to make a point with this situation. They are both overheard asking why this is suddenly an issue. They are not the first to draw blood from a patient and are clearly irritated they are being challenged. This only means one thing – the last time they were there, the staff just went along, not knowing the policy and/or just trusting the officer was doing the lawful and correct thing. This certainly is not an uncommon occurrence in ERs across the nation. I have heard plenty of anecdotal stories of officers just trying to get some blood to move things along, knowing they are skirting the real procedures. Well, now we have all been educated – thanks Nurse Wubbels!

And for an extra bonus, you can watch the excerts of Detective Payne’s body cam video. He can be heard making comments about how as an paramedic, he will just bring the transients there and the good patients elsewhere.  He’s a real piece of work. The company he worked for has placed him on paid leave also due to the comments made in the video.

Nurse Wubbels did finally receive an apology from the Mayor and Chief of Police after the public outcry (noticing a trend), however, in her interview the day after the story broke, she was clear that she wants some solutions to come from this situation so it does not happen to another health care provider. She stated, “I felt a duty to everyone that has ever had this happen to them that hasn’t had the evidence that I have to show it.” Oh she showed us and for that we are so proud of her!

Final Thoughts

  • We have the power to make change. Although nurses feel like isolated silos, it is when we exchange stories and have dialogue that we start to see the true problems in our profession. Just as we rallied around “The View incident”, we will rally again! Social media is clearly the avenue that will connect us, so stay connected, get your voice out there and show support. We live in unprecedented times where you can Tweet directly to the Mayor of Salt Lake City and tell her this is not right or leave messages of support for Nurse Wubbels on the police department’s web page. This is how the fire gets fanned these days. Yes, social media is fun, but it has power – look what happened in just 48 hours when we rallied around a random nurse in Utah.
  • Know your policies and procedures. If there is anything to learn, this is it! No, we can’t know them all, but if you don’t know, you better go find out. If you feel weird or suspicious about something, then look it up.
  • Use your chain of command. Please, please, please don’t forget to escalate issues. Just like this nurse, she knew she needed support and clarification. That’s what they get paid the big bucks for;  let them make the tough decisions. As most are afraid to stand up to physicians, the fear is certainly escalated when a police officer is involved. Don’t take the fight on alone.
  • One bad apple does not spoil the bunch. I have mad respect for our law enforcement officers – imagine going to work every day and everyone you meet hates you. No thanks. So, we can’t let this one incident cast shade on an entire profession. Just as we have a few bad nurses, we don’t all want to be lumped together.
  • Would it have been different? I can’t help but wonder if this situation would have been different if the nurse had been male? My husband is a nurse and we talk about this a lot – especially when we worked at the same hospital. It was blatantly obvious that he was treated very differently by the staff and physicians, especially if they were male. I think Detective Payne saw a person in a perceived submissive role standing up to him and he was not having it. But would it have been different if he was a tall, strong male? We will never know.
  • Proud to be a nurse. As Nurse Wubbels said perfectly, “Only job I have is to keep my patient safe.” Not only did she keep him safe, but she put his interests above her own. Nurses do this each day – missing lunch and bath room breaks and sleeping in hospitals during disasters as everyone evacuates. It is what we do and now the world gets to see it first hand. It is a great week to be a nurse!

What can you do?

  • Keep the fire going. We need to keep this conversation going. They want us to just simmer down and get distracted by the next new headline. Please keep the heat on them, it appears to be the only way to do anything.
  • Join SMYS. Although the ANA and other professional organizations are finally coming forward in support of this nurse, there is a vibrant group of like-minded nurses with boots in the ground who have joined together on Facebook in the Show Me Your Stethoscope group. These are my people –  folks who just want to do what is right in health care so we can care for our patients better. Our professional organizations have left us in the dust, so we as a group need to rally together for the change we need – safe nurse patient ratios, stopping the violence against health care workers to name a few.
  • Call the Salt Lake City PD. You can call the Internal Affairs office at 801-799-4420 and let them know you support  Nurse Wubbels.
  • Call your federal senators and representatives. Ask them to support legislation that makes Violence Against Healthcare Professionals to be a FELONY in ALL 50 STATES, Puerto Rico, and District of Columbia.

To Nurse Wubbels

If by some crazy chance you care reading this humble blog, know you are my hero. Legit. You are who every nurse aims to be as they set off in school, but just don’t know how they will ever get to that point in their career. You are the poster child for the everyday nurse, just trying to do what is right even when it is incredibly difficult. I know you probably didn’t wake up that day and say, “Hey, maybe I can get catapulted into the national spot light and arrested today.” But you have handled yourself with grace, poise and strength. Know you have a nation of nurses behind you supporting you and cheering you on.

Feel free to leave your comments here and let’s keep the conversation going. Thanks for listening and please keep sharing this information!

Take care, be safe and wash your hands!

 

13 thoughts on “Unlawful arrest of Nurse Alex Wubbels – a nurse’s thoughts

  1. I hope she will use her notoriety to champion legislation/standards/competencies to protect nurses from all the abuses we face. Sadly, nurses in past high profile cases seem to have disappeared choosing to enjoy the fruits of their settlements or silently
    step out of the limelight not taking advantage of the momentum that hundreds of thousands of nurses helped create. Doors close very quickly with the media. It is very hard to get them to pay attention.

  2. I hope you are able to continue this to get appropriate legislation to protect all health care workers. I support you 100%.

  3. I appreciate your thoughtful post and points, Joan. I’m still processing and considering writing about this incident in depth as well. I do believe gender is a factor and this incident is a symptom of bullying behavior that is embedded in our healthcare culture and society at large. NOT OK! I’m totally on board with keeping the heat on and stand up with Nurse Wubbels for her refusal to do the wrong thing as well as to hold civilized conversations following the incident with the Mayor and with the Chief of Police.

    • I think we are all still trying to process this situation. But, I felt compelled to speak as I have this outlet to do so. Hopefully it continues to inspire others to be brave and keep the conversations going forward toward change. Thanks for you support and kind words!

  4. Amen! The 3 million nurses in the U.S. are together a sleeping giant. I believe we are beginning to rally around injustices and I look forward to bringing about needed change.

    Excellent, excellent Final Thoughts and actionable items. Thank you

    • As you have said in the past, we have always had the power! It definitely is great to see us rallying around this and other injustices, lets keep moving forward! Thanks for the kind words!

  5. While the police officer was wrong for arresting Alex it is healthcare administrators who downplay these horrific and tragic events and why these events continue. AND why this police officer will likely keep his job after the dust up settles. Because of the former, please sign and share this petition to FIRE! those administrators who NOT only were present and witnesses but allowed this incident to occur. Also FIRE! those at the TOP who downplayed this horrific and tragic incident commenting about it over a month later ONLY after the video went viral. Please sign and share. Thanks. https://www.change.org/p/a-lorris-betz-fire-university-of-utah-hospitals-clinic-administration-for-failing-healthcare-workers

    • Thank you for your thoughts on the matter. I am not sure that firing everyone will solve this problem, but they certainly need to shed some much needed light on a far bigger problem. I think those present did the best they felt they could and clearly more education is necessary. I don’t think anyone anticipated this Detective flipping a switch like he did and if others jumped in, I think it certainly would have escalated more and others would have been injured. I appreciate you efforts and for that reason, I will allow your comments to be published. Thanks for being a part of the conversation.

  6. Many injustices have gotten lip service at best. The defaming and wrongful termination of nurses who speak truth to power is a cancer. It is a huge contributor to the culture of silence that infects hospital staff. I and the few nurses who have filed civil suits is but a dozen as opposed to the tens of thousands wrongly terminated to muzzle the majority. To remain passive is to enable this to continue.

  7. I to have been following this story of Alex Wubbles, the ER charge nurse in SLC Utah who was arrested by a SLC detective for not allowing a cop to draw blood on a victim of a car crash. This story is fascinating on many levels from how it started, what happened, and what seemed to be a complete breakdown of leadership at so many levels that enabled this to happen. The bottom line for me is that the SLC police department has a serious systemic problem which as a military man I think goes all the way up to the police chief. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. I would not be surprised if the mayor fires the police chief, the two police officers are fired, the entire PD is rehabilitated under a new chief, and the nurse gets a huge payday. In my opinion, too much went wrong for it to be a couple of stupid cops. My wife Mona has been a nurse for over 30 years, and was an ER charge nurse for a while. She has never been involved in anything like this, nor has she heard anything remotely like this from anyone she has worked with. All the cops Mona dealt with were completely professional. It’s so over the top, it is kind of unbelievable. A cop under direct orders from his lieutenant could/would pull the ER charge nurse from her duties in the ER while the hospital’s armed cop and a second SLCPD cop just stand by and watch it happen. The nurse Alex Wubbels was nothing but professional during the entire event leading up to the arrest as well as some of her co-workers who also attempted to de-escalate things with the cop.
    From what I can piece together… Apparently the Logan Utah police were in a high speed chase with a suspect who crossed the center line and hit a semi-truck head on travelling in the opposite direction. The suspect was killed and the driver of the semi (the victim) exited his vehicle on fire. He was taken to the ER of the University of Utah hospital and placed in the hospitals burn unit in a coma. From what I can tell the Logan police asked the SLC police to collect a blood sample from the victim. I am not sure why this was needed from the victim, but it could be that if the semi driver was under the influence it might protect the Logan police from liability connected to the high speed chase and crash. The victim was in a coma and could not consent to give blood, was not under arrest, the detective did not have a warrant and hospital policy developed and agreed to by the SLC police required at least one of these for a blood draw. The SLC detective who came to get the blood was read the policy by Alex Wubbels, but had been ordered by his Lieutenant to either get blood or arrest the charge nurse! From what I can piece together several administrators and supervisors were contacted. One attempted to reason with the cop on the phone, but none of them came to the ER to try to diffuse the situation and provide some top cover for the nurse! The armed hospital cop told the SLC cop he would not interfere before the fact, and the SLC cop strong armed the ER nurse into handcuffs and put her in a police car outside the ER. He and the other SLC cop smoked and joked until the SLCPD lieutenant arrived. I found some video of the lieutenant talking the Alex Wubbels handcuffed in the police car. All I can say is this Lieutenant is a total piece of work! He is the poster child for the saying, “ignorant people are ignorant because they don’t know they are ignorant”. How was this guy promoted to Lieutenant? He was talking absolute non-sense and he was the guy leading and driving the situation.
    So, now the irony! Nurse Alex Wobbels who the cop arrested was a two time Olympic alpine skier who later became a nurse. The semi-truck driver victim in the coma is reserve police officer from the Rigby Idaho PD who drives truck part time as a second job. The cop that made the arrest is named Detective Payne! I think the only way this could get better is if he would have arrested Mother Teresa trying to get blood from a comatose US Attorney General, and the cop’s first name was Major.
    This all happened on July 26. Det Payne was taken off the Blood Draw Unit, but was still on active duty until 8/31 when Wobbels and her attorney had a press conference and released the video. After which the Police Chief and Mayor apologized to the nurse on the phone and then apologized in a press conference, and two police officers connected to this where put on admin leave. I assume they are Payne and the Lieutenant. I am sure nothing would have been corrected had the nurse and her attorney not released the video, which tells me the Police Chief needs to go since he sat on this an entire month. Anyway, it is rare that something that goes off the rails this badly is documented so thoroughly. And it is also amazing so many people in power were demonstrated to be so incompetent. If I were president I would give Alex Wubbels the Presidential Medal of Freedom award for standing up to this abuse of power to protect the privacy of someone she did not even know.

    • Thank you for your insight and helping us all process the sad event. I, like you, hope many changes come from this situation. Thanks!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *