What Can Be Learned from Arrest of Utah Nurse?

PUBLISHED: Sep 7, 2017
Relevant to: Ambulatory Care, Behavioral Health, Clinical Lab, Community Mental Health Centers, Critical Access Hospitals, Dialysis Facilities, Home Health, Hospice, Hospitals, Long Term Care, Medical Office, Pharmacy

By now most of us in the health care field have seen the video of the Salt Lake City, Utah registered nurse who was arrested for refusing to draw blood from an unconscious patient on her burn unit. The incident has drawn strong reaction from the hospital where the nurse works, the American Nurses Association and the public. Follow the link below to view the footage and read more about the incident.

Based on the video, the nurse seems to do everything right – and from a risk management perspective it is worth evaluating those steps:

  • In the video we see the registered nurse with a copy of her hospital’s policy on blood draws from unconscious patients.
  • The nurse clearly explains the criteria that are stated in the policy, shows the police officer a copy of the policy and then confirms with the officer that the required criteria for blood draw from an unconscious patient have not been met.
  • The nurse has her supervisor on the telephone and that supervisor confirms the nurse’s interpretation of the policy.

This video is evidence of a nurse who knows her job and does it well. She advocates for her patient, relies on hospital policy and calls for help from a supervisor when needed. That should have been enough. Sadly, as we know from the video of the event, it was not.

The Hospital, in response to the incident released a statement that included the following change in their policy,

“In the event that law enforcement requests or requires a blood sample from a patient, they should immediately be directed to the House Supervisor on duty at that time, who will then work to find a sensible solution. With this update in policy, anyone who cares for patients should never worry about making decisions at a moment's notice other than those that affect the direct care of their patients.”

Incidents such as these provide a great opportunity to review hospital policies and ensure your staff knows how to respond. State regulations on blood draws from unconscious patients vary and hospitals should consult their individual state regulations, as well as their legal departments, to ensure comprehensive and responsive policies. Hospitals will also want to consider the following:

  • Does staff know how to access relevant policies whenever needed?
  • Are policies housed in a manner that lets them be easily shared (e.g., printed, emailed)
  • Are supervisors available to be physically present on a hospital unit when needed? If not, how does staff access supervisors?
  • When disagreements escalate, does your staff know what resources are available to get help?

In essence, this incident dissolved into one of workplace violence. Are your workplace violence polices up to date? Does staff have training in de-escalation? Does de-escalation training include how to address disruptive behavior from persons in authority (police offices, doctors, administrators)?

Included with today’s notice are example policies and procedures that may prove helpful and relevant to discussions that should take place in your organization in response to this incident.

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