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!
- 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!