My Take on Nurse vs. Detective

By | September 7, 2017 | 3 Comments

By now, most people have formed an opinion about the emergency-department nurse who was arrested, manhandled out of the hospital, handcuffed, and held in a police car before being released without charges being filed. Her crime: she refused the order of a detective to draw a blood specimen from an unconscious accident victim.

The nurse, her supervisor, and the others in the emergency department ‒ apparently including a physician ‒ repeatedly informed the detective, and the uniformed officers also present, that hospital policy required that to draw a blood specimen, the patient either had to (1) consent, or (2) be under arrest, or (3) the police had to have a warrant. This was based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Nevertheless, the detective insisted, and when he was not obeyed, he arrested and manhandled the nurse, thus interfering with patient care in the emergency department. These are my thoughts.

On a theoretical level, the Constitution is involved, specifically the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. Clearly, this is of utmost importance to all of us.

But on a practical level, my problem is with the detective’s contempt for the chain of command. He acted as if he were in his house, when in fact he was in someone else’s house.

When I walk into the police station, neglect to check with the watch commander, and start ordering his officers to violate their policy manual, then the detective can walk into my emergency department, neglect to check with me, and start ordering my physicians and nurses to violate our policy manual ‒ but not until then.

Short of outright mutiny, there is nothing so destructive of discipline and good order as an outsider barging in, ignoring the chain of command, and ordering around subordinates without the approval of their superior ‒ and in this case, in direct violation of his instructions.

No organization, military or civilian, law-enforcement or medical, can function properly under such chaotic conditions, or perhaps even function at all. One might expect that a police officer with years of experience in a paramilitary-type organization would understand this. In this case, one would be wrong.

Perhaps worst of all, despite all the disorder and commotion he caused, the detective did not succeed in getting the blood specimen he wanted. As is so often the case, excessive force and unreasoning bluster failed to achieve anything except more disruption.

The lesson, as I see it, is this: If you want others to respect your organization and aims, show respect for their organization and aims. Respect, like loyalty, resembles an electric circuit. The current has to flow out, and then flow back again, or the circuit is broken ‒ and the lights go out.

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