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A Utah nurse was arrested for refusing to do a forced blood draw. Could it happen here?

In this July 26, 2017, frame grab from video taken from a police body camera and provided by attorney Karra Porter, nurse Alex Wubbels is arrested by a Salt Lake City police officer at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. The Utah police department is making changes after the officer dragged Wubbels out of the hospital in handcuffs when she told him he couldn't draw blood on an unconscious burn-unit patient.
In this July 26, 2017, frame grab from video taken from a police body camera and provided by attorney Karra Porter, nurse Alex Wubbels is arrested by a Salt Lake City police officer at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. The Utah police department is making changes after the officer dragged Wubbels out of the hospital in handcuffs when she told him he couldn't draw blood on an unconscious burn-unit patient. Associated Press

Could a Fresno County nurse be handcuffed and arrested for refusing to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient – such as in the video of an encounter between a police officer and a Utah nurse that is being widely circulated on social media allegedly shows?

The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United on Friday criticized the handling of the Salt Lake City nurse while noting that a forced blood draw is a complex and confusing topic.

Under California law, if an officer has probable cause that the driver is under the influence, the driver is deemed to have given consent for a blood or breath test. But a registered nurse in California is required to act as a patient advocate, and there are situations where it may not be in the best interest of the patient for blood to be drawn, said Don Nielsen, a spokesman for the California Nurses Association.

“It’s complicated,” Nielsen said.

But this could help: If there is not a consent from a patient, law enforcement has the option of getting a warrant from a judge for a blood draw. And the electronic-age has sped the warrant process.

“We can go get a warrant in an hour from an on-call judge,” said Sgt. Christopher Swanberg of the central division of the California Highway Patrol. “That’s what we do all the time now: We get a warrant.”

Swanberg said he’s not heard of a nurse in this area of California being arrested over a blood-draw dispute. And he said: “I would never force a hospital nurse or a phlebotomist (a person who draws blood) to get blood.”

In the case of the Utah nurse, the video shows University of Utah Nurse Alex Wubbels giving Detective Jeff Payne a copy of the hospital policy that said a blood sample could not be taken without patient consent, a warrant, or if the patient is under arrest. And it shows her contacting a supervisor on a cell phone to confirm the policy. The video shows Wubbels being grabbed and shoved out of the building, and handcuffed.

The incident, caught on the officer’s body camera, has gone viral.

Nielsen said of the Salt Lake City incident: “It looks to me like the nurse acted appropriately.”

And on Friday, the nurses association said the Salt Lake City Police officer assaulted Wubbels and called his actions “disgraceful and inappropriate.”

“What was done to that nurse was outrageous,” said Chuck Idelson, communications director for the nurses association.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City’s mayor and police chief apologized Friday for the handcuffing of Wubbels on July 26.

The nurses’ association is using the Salt Lake City incident as an opportunity to talk about hospital workplace violence. The association sponsored a law two years ago that requires California hospitals to have violence prevention programs. It is urging the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create a national workplace violence standard.

Violence in the hospital workplace is out of control, Idelson said. “And to see law enforcement officials contributing to that problem is quite disturbing to a lot of people.”

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter

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