U ADDRESSES WRONGFUL ARREST

Administrators with University of Utah Hospital and the U’s Department of Public Safety held a press conference Monday, Sept. 4 to express support for Alex Wubbels, a nurse in the hospital’s burn unit who was threatened with arrest after refusing to allow a Salt Lake City police officer to draw blood from a patient. Administrators commended Wubbels' commitment and professionalism in following hospital procedures and protocols and putting her patient’s best interests ahead of her own during the stressful situation.
 
At the press conference, administrators also shared information about actions undertaken immediately following the July 26 incident, including adoption of a new policy designed to protect nurses and other patient care staff and prevent such interactions from occurring in the future.
 
Below are prepared remarks from the press conference and video statements shared with hospital staff.

Gordon Crabtree, CEO, University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics

 
“Every day at this hospital, health care providers, regardless of their roles, are asked to sacrifice their own needs in order to put the needs of their patients first. They perform at the very highest level of integrity and professionalism.
 
On the early evening of July 26 of this year, this expectation was put to the ultimate test when our burn unit charge nurse, Alex Wubbels, stood firm to uphold hospital policy and patient privacy. She put her own safety at risk to ensure the safety and privacy of her patient. Her actions were exemplary and she handled the situation with the utmost courage and integrity.
Our hospital continues to offer our full support to Alex. I think many of you know she is an Olympian and to us she’s truly an Olympic-size hero. We extend our appreciation for her dedication and service. 
 
As the saying goes, the buck stops hereAs the CEO of this hospital, the safety and well-being of our patients and staff is something I take very seriously.
 
I was deeply troubled after receiving reports from my staff regarding the actions of the Salt Lake City police officer. His actions were out-of-line and there is absolutely no tolerance for that kind of behavior in our hospital.
While Alex may say that she was simply “following hospital procedure” or “just doing her job,” we also recognize that she was placed in a very unfair and truly unwarranted position. This will not happen again.
 
To that end, we are changing our interface protocols with law enforcement — a move that I set in motion with my team hours after this event unfolded. Our patient care nurses and staff will NOT be the first point of contact with law enforcement.
 
With these new protocols in place, this type of situation won’t happen again. We also expect that through lessons learned from this painful and very public process, we will be looked to by other hospitals to adopt similar protocols and policies so they won’t face similar situations. 
 
We also are working with Chief Brophy and our University of Utah security officers to ensure the officers who are on duty at our hospital understand that their primary duty is to advocate for and protect our patients and staff and that they also have a duty to uphold and instill the confidence of those in our hospital they serve.
 
It’s imperative we act together with law enforcement and that our protocols must be appropriate in ensuring our patients a safe place to heal and, for our employees, a safe place to work. Nothing less is acceptable and I personally, along with my colleagues, will continue to be directly involved to monitor and ensure this is the case. 
 
I also want to compliment our supervisors and senior leaders. From the moment this incident took place that July evening, our supervisors and senior administrators were on the phone and on site with the Salt Lake Police department.
 
Our team was advocating for the immediate release of Alex and was ultimately successful in getting her released from the handcuffs and the car. Alex was never charged and will not have a record. I and my senior leaders personally met with senior law enforcement officials the next afternoon who started our meeting with an apology and an agreement to meet with Alex.
 
We began the review and change process at that meeting. Since that time, we've met with Alex and offered her our full support. These meetings occurred the day of the incident and continue to this day. We are also offering our staff opportunities to ask questions or reach out to us with concerns. We are currently ranked No. 1 in the country for quality and we have been ranked as the best hospital in Utah and in the region. We are ranked so highly because of employees like Alex who care deeply about our patients. We simply will not let Alex down or any of our other exemplary faculty and staff.”

Dale Brophy, chief, University of Utah Department of Public Safety

 
“Last Thursday evening I was provided a copy of the body camera footage in regards to this incident. After viewing the footage, I was able to see first-hand how poorly this situation was handled. For that, I would like to apologize to Alex Wubbels and the staff of the University of Utah Hospital. This was not how law enforcement professionals should act. 
 
To use a metaphor to describe this situation, when our security was asked to take the ride with Alex, we jumped in the back seat when we should have been riding shotgun. Alex conducted herself in a very professional manner, did everything right and did not deserve to be subjected to arrest for doing her job.
 
My staff, both police and security, will be using this incident to get better and meet the expectations of our campus community. This will include de-escalation training and adherence to the new protocol being implemented here at the hospital."

Margaret Pearce, chief nursing officer, University of Utah Hospital

 
“Good morning. My name is Margaret Pearce. I am the chief nursing officer at University of Utah Hospital and I appreciate the opportunity to make a few comments this morning.
 
As chief nursing officer, it is my role to make sure patients are safe and that they receive only the most excellent care. It is also my role to ensure that all of my nurses are afforded a safe environment in which to do their jobs. 
 
I was appalled at the events of July 26. We are a Level 1 Trauma Center with the only dedicated burn unit in the Mountain West region and we have some of the sickest patients anywhere. Because of this, we work with law enforcement on a regular basis and for a variety of reasons and will continue to do so. However, I consider the way in which Alex was treated to be totally unacceptable. No individual in a role of patient care should ever be treated in this fashion.
 
In this instance, the patient was not able to advocate for themselves. So, as every nurse is expected to do, Alex stepped into the role of advocate to protect her patient’s rights. She showed extreme grace under fire and proved that even her own safety and reputation was not worth breaking that commitment she made to take care of others. 
 
It’s unfortunate that this event happened to Alex and that it took place at our hospital. I have found that when something difficult and traumatic happens, you want to turn back the clock to prevent it from happening in the first place. Because this isn’t possible, I’ve been laser-focused on two things. First, taking care of Alex and making sure she knows we support her and will do everything for her that she needs. And, second, ensuring this never happens to one of our nurses again.
 
Moving forward, we have established a new process concerning interaction with law enforcement. Law enforcement who come to the hospital for any reason involving patients will be required to check in to the front desk of the hospital. There, a hospital house supervisor will meet the officers to work through each request.
 
This new policy, which was written the day after this incident and implemented in our hospital within weeks, is designed to accomplish a few things:
 
  • First, it takes our front-line patient care staff out of the equation so they can remain focused on the most important thing  taking care of patients.
  • Second, it prevents any future disputes from taking place directly in patient care units, which is never acceptable.
  • Third, it limits the number of individuals to a small group of highly trained people whose specific job will be to work through these issues.
 
This situation has reminded me once again how fortunate I am to work with incredible nurses. I am extremely proud of Alex and her decision to put her patient’s rights and well-being ahead of her own. I am also extremely proud of the support being offered to Alex. It’s well deserved.”

Dr. Stephen Morris, medical director, University of Utah Hospital Burn Center 

 
“For several years, I have known Alex Wubbels and what we all saw play out on video is an example of the dedication she shows each one of her patients every day. Despite a very intimidating and unfair set of circumstances she stuck to hospital policy — something I’m very grateful to her for. 
 
University of Utah Hospital is a Level 1 trauma center and the only burn trauma unit in a five-state region, which means we see some of the most critically ill patients in the region. As such, it’s not uncommon that we work with law enforcement.
 
Over the years, we’ve had encounters with law enforcement that didn’t go as smoothly as they should have and we’ve always been able to meet and work through these issues. However, the events of July 26 were truly unprecedented. It was unacceptable and I won’t tolerate that type of behavior from law enforcement in any area of the hospital that I oversee.
 
The burn unit is a close family  and burn units across the country have sent their message of support for Alex and our team. We are appreciative of that outreach and I want to affirm my confidence, support and admiration for Alex and thank her for what she did. It’s my hope we can all learn from this disturbing incident and move forward to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”