For a while now, I’ve been contemplating ethics and compliance lessons from the arrest of Alex Wubbels— the Utah nurse taken into custody by Salt Lake City police, because she refused to draw blood for an unconscious patient.
a couple weeks after the event with the dust settled, it’s time to investigate to see what ethics and compliance officers can learn.
You probably saw the story, which broke over Labor Day Weekend. Back in July, Wubbels was on duty at the University of Utah Hospital when the unconscious patient was brought in, the victim of a fiery crash caused by another man fleeing police. A detective from Salt Lake City police demanded that Wubbels draw blood from the patient (a fellow police officer from out of state), ostensibly to prove the man was an innocent victim.
Wubbels refused. In a 20-minute long confrontation, she explained hospital policy: the patient wasn’t a suspect in a crime; he hadn’t given consent; and police had no court order to compel a blood draw. Therefore, Wubbels had no choice but to refuse the SLC detective’s request.
By now your memory might be firing. The entire confrontation was captured on the bodycam of another SLC police officer on scene. Wubbels calmly stated her position, and she had the support of hospital colleagues and supervisors. The detective, Jeff Payne, became increasingly belligerent and threatened Wubbels with arrest. Eventually he did take Wubbels into custody--and that episode was all captured on video, as a tearful Wubbels said, “I’ve done nothing wrong! This is crazy!”
Needless to say, she hadn’t done anything wrong, and it was crazy. After 20 minutes in the back of an SLC squad car, Wubbels was released— but the damage was done.
Now, a couple weeks after the event with the dust settled, it’s time to investigate to see what ethics and compliance officers can learn.
Compliance Training Matters So Much
She knew what proper policy was, and she defended that policy— even in the face of ferocious outrage
One struggles to frame this story correctly. On one hand, it’s testament to the success of the compliance program at University of Utah. That organization trained Wubbels (and numerous other employees involved in the incident) perfectly. She knew what proper policy was, and she defended that policy— even in the face of ferocious outrage from Det. Jeff Payne at the Salt Lake City police.
Or we could frame this story in the opposite way: as a damning tale of training and policy management shortcomings by the Salt Lake City Police Department.
In the video, Payne cited the doctrine of implied consent as reason to draw blood. Suffice to say, the implied consent doctrine doesn’t fit here; it only applies when police suspect someone is driving drunk. Payne said he wanted a blood sample to prove the patient was not driving drunk. His understanding of the law was outdated at best.
We could stop right there and say, compliance training matters. Employees need training to know the substance of a policy (which Payne did not); and they need training to have the backbone to uphold the policy even in the face of pressure (which Wubbels did).
Of the two concerns, I praise Wubbels and “U of U” above all. Training people on knowledge is important, yes. Training people on courage to uphold company policies and values even in the face pressure, however— that’s something else entirely. It’s a credit to Wubbels, the hospital, and even to colleagues who gritted their teeth and let her be arrested, rather than inflame the situation.
Ethics & Compliance Caught on Tape: The New Norm of the Replay
We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the other prime fact here: we are all talking about this incident because it was captured on video. Every visceral, gripping moment of this compliance training explosion is available for anyone to see, forever.
That’s the other lesson for compliance officers here: surveillance magnifies everything. It gives objective viewers the facts of a situation and emotional indignation at the same time.
That’s a tremendously powerful force. Compliance officers should recognize how it can manipulate the human psyche so easily. Surveillance doesn’t necessarily subvert due process and impartial investigations— but surveillance can accelerate investigations, to a pace that feels like arbitrary justice.
The lessons here are about inculcating strong processes, that can withstand pressure and not sacrifice core values. Because, really, that’s what Wubbels had to do when confronted by a bellicose police detective. We should praise her for her poise.
Then again, withstanding strong pressure is what chief compliance officers need to do every day - sometimes even as the masses watch surveillance video and clamor for speedy, rough justice.
We must have poise in those moments, because they’ll be coming more often.