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UPDATED: Utah nurse gets $500,000 settlement following arrest for refusing police blood draw

Police body camera footage showed Salt lake City detective roughly handcuffing Wubbels, shoving her into police car.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

Credit: The Salt Lake TribuneCredit: The Salt Lake Tribune

Salt Lake City nurse Alex Wubbels, who was arrested in July for refusing to allow police to a draw blood sample from an unconscious patient, has been awarded a $500,000 settlement to be paid by the city and her employer.

Wubbels has, in turn, agreed not to pursue any lawsuit in connection to her arrest by then Salt Lake City detective Jeff Payne, who was fired shortly after his arrest of Wubbels at University of Utah Hospital where she was working. The watch commander at the time of the arrest, Lieutenant James Tracey, was also demoted to officer, according to a Reuters report.

Wubbels was released soon after her arrest, Reuters said. The two officers plan to appeal the punitive actions taken against them.

Police body camera footage showed Payne roughly handcuffing Wubbels and shoving her into an unmarked police vehicle. Wubbels had refused to allow police to draw blood from an unconscious patient who'd been injured when a car driven by someone fleeing police crashed into his vehicle, Reuters said. That patient later died.

In the video, Wubbels cited an agreed-upon policy between the police department and the hospital pertaining to obtaining blood samples for police enforcement of a patient suspected to be under the influence that stated the three conditions that would allow such a blood draw are: the possession of an electronic warrant, patient consent or the patient being under arrest. Wubbels told police that the patient was unable to consent because he was unconscious, and the other conditions were not present. At the time, Wubbels had someone she said was a hospital administrator on speakerphone who asked the officer why he was continuing to blame Wubbels simply for being "the messenger" of an agreed-upon hospital policy. The administrator told Payne he was making a huge mistake in threatening a nurse, but Payne proceeded with the arrest, as seen in the video.

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Wubbels told her attorney she plans to share some of the money with charities.

University of Utah Hospital said that as a result of the incident with Wubbels, their Chief Nursing Officer and hospital leadership immediately collaborated with Salt Lake Police Department and other stakeholders to refine and clarify their policy regarding blood draws and interactions with law enforcement.  A letter sent by hospital CEO Gordon Crabtree and Chief Nursing Officer Margaret Pearce outlined the revised policy, which clearly separates frontline nurses and caregivers from direct interaction with law enforcement. A designated on-duty clinical nursing supervisor, to be known as a house supervisor, will serve as the primary liaison for law enforcement with the inpatient units. In the ED, a University police officer will act on behalf of the on-duty charge nurse and deal with external police. Adjustments have been made on both sides to for their respective escalation processes, the letter said.

"When this event took place, I promised Alex I'd do everything in my power to prevent something like this from happening again," said Margaret Pearce, chief nursing officer for University of Utah Health. "...We work closely with law enforcement every day and we believe this policy helps us to move forward in a very positive way. We also hope it will provide a framework for other hospitals and law enforcement agencies throughout the state."

University of Utah also said in a statement that they continue to support Wubbels, calling her an excellent nurse and commending her for putting her patient first.

"Our hope  is that the implementation of these new procedures will ensure a situation like this doesn't happen again."

Twitter: @BethJSanborn

Email the writer: beth.sanborn@himssmedia.com

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