Here’s how the unjust arrest of one nurse inspires all nurses


As many was in the health care world, I was shocked by the unlawful arrest of nurse Alex Wubbels. In health care, 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, making this story even more disturbing.

Although the situation initially happened on July 26, the story finally was brought to the public eye on Thursday, August 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.

This is the third act of violence against a nurse we have seen in recent months.

Thankfully, the national news began running the story, and attention from non-nurses was growing in strength. We were clearly upset, and nothing appeared to be happening — this detective was still working.

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 was started.

By mid-morning on Septemeber 1, the University of Utah issued a statement of support for nurse Alex Wubbels, to which a community of nurses breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, administration and nursing on the same side of a fight — stranger things have happened. 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 September 1, the mayor and chief of police issued an official statement. Basically, it just reiterated that an ongoing investigation was in the process. 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. 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. Even more concerning was that the intimidation continued as Nurse Wubbels was detained in the car in handcuffs.

These officers were locked and loaded and ready to make a point with this situation. They are clearly irritated that 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. 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!

Nurse Wubbels finally received an apology from the mayor and chief of police after the public outcry. In her interview the day after the story broke, however, 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.”

Final thoughts

  • We have the power to make change. Although nurses feel like isolated silos, it is when we speak up, we start to see the true problems in our profession. 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. They are there to protect us — know them.
  • Use your chain of command. Please, do not forget to escalate issues.
  • Let them make the tough decisions. Fear is certainly escalated when a police officer is involved; so do not take the fight on alone.
  • Would it have been different? I can’t help but wonder if this situation would have been different if the nurse had been male? I think Detective Payne saw a person in a perceived submissive role standing up to him, and it angered him. But would it have been different if he were a tall, strong male? We will never know.
  • Proud to be a nurse. As Nurse Wubbels said perfectly, “The only job I have is to keep my patient safe.” Not only did she keep him safe, but also she put his interests above her own. Nurses do this each day — missing lunch and bathroom breaks and sleeping in hospitals during disasters as everyone evacuates.
  • Call your federal senators and representatives. Ask them to support legislation that makes violence against health care professionals a felony in all fifty states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

To Nurse Wubbels:

If by some crazy chance you are reading this, know you are my hero. 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 did not wake up that day and say, “Hey, maybe I can get catapulted into the national spotlight 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.

Joan Spitrey is a nurse who blogs at the Nurse Teacher.

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