Last week, I was shocked and outraged along with many of you by a video clip of one of our fellow nurses being arrested for performing her job. Alex Wubbels, charge nurse at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City burn unit — was handcuffed and shoved into a squad car after she refused, per hospital policy, to allow an officer to draw blood from an unconscious hospital patient.
At a news conference on Monday, Gordon Crabtree, hospital CEO, defended Wubbels’ actions, promising there would never be a repeat of what had happened to this nurse. His comments – those of a bold leader – made me reflect on the words in AACN’s Standards for Establishing and Sustaining Healthy Work Environments that point to relationship issues as having the potential to create serious obstacles for creating work environments where patients and their families can receive safe care with optimal outcomes. Crabtree said, “Protocols must be appropriate to ensure our patients and our staff have a place where they feel like they can heal and a safe place they can feel like they can work. Nothing less is acceptable.”
At the same press conference, Margaret Pearce, chief nursing officer at the hospital, said, “Nurse Wubbels was doing her job — advocating for the rights of a patient, who could not advocate for himself.” We know that nurses play an essential role in the wellbeing of our patients by acting as advocates. Because of this, the safety of patients AND nurses is of the utmost importance to our AACN community.
While most of us would agree that unhealthy interactions between law enforcement officers and nurses are generally rare, we hear increasingly of threatening and unsafe encounters that nurses have with both patients and visitors in hospitals. AACN has called on healthcare organizations to address their ethical accountability for providing safe and healing environments in which patient care is delivered. And, if legislation is needed to ensure that safety, AACN will support measures that address this issue appropriately.
In the meantime, however, I urge you to be bolstered by the actions of Alex Wubbels as she faced this unfortunate situation. Her respectful grace under fire was amazing and her courage to do the right thing, inspiring. Consider: What policies and programs do you have in place to avoid this from happening where you work? What procedures do you have to help keep you safe if faced with a threatening situation in your unit? There is no better time than the present to institute meaningful, collaborative dialogue with your hospital administration to prevent this from happening in your work environment.
We all need to work together to build work environments that ensure that our patients can heal, and we nurses have a safe place to work. To quote Gordon Crabtree and paraphrase our own AACN mission, nothing less is acceptable.
Chris Schulman, MS, RN, CNS, CCRN-K