implied consent the officer was relying on was nonexistent. So
while the US Supreme Court would have upheld Utah’s law regarding implied consent, it would only do so when the officer
believed the truck driver was in violation.
Federal Privacy Rule
Even if this situation met the rule of law in Utah (that the driver was probably under the influence), the hospital might have
used the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The Privacy Rule does not allow
any information to be released to law enforcement unless it is
with consent, a court order, subpoena, or summons. If law enforcement is attempting to identify a material witness, the rule
only allows the name and address, type of injury, and condition.
Finally, this situation does not fall under mandatory reporting
or any of the other “required by law” exceptions to the necessity
of an authorization or the compulsory process.
Because Utah law and the Privacy Rule are in conflict, the pre-emption comes into play. Generally, federal law has legal precedent. However, the Privacy Rule states at 45 §160.203 (b) that
if a state law is more stringent than the federal standard, it will
prevail. Further, 45 §160.202 ( 6) defines “more stringent” as providing greater privacy protection for the individual. The federal
rule gave more protection to the patient than the state rule.
There was also a written agreement between the police department and the hospital apparently outlining when the police department may obtain blood samples from patients suspected of
being under the influence.⁵ It sounds as though the agreement
outlined the HIPAA Privacy Rule exceptions above, leading one
to wonder what had happened in the past that made the agreement necessary. It is not a factor in this case, but does serve to
illustrate how complex the laws are and why healthcare professionals need to understand how to comply with them.
Outcomes of the Case
After Wubbels went to the press over a month later, with her attorney and recordings of her arrest from the officer’s body camera, the following events occurred:
On October 9, 2017, after an investigation, Payne was terminated from his job with the Salt Lake City Police Department. He has appealed that termination. Also, Tracy
was demoted to officer and is also appealing the decision.⁶
The University of Utah and the Salt Lake City Police Department signed an agreement on October 11, 2017. In it, the
police department agreed to established procedures for
performing law enforcement activities within the system’s
hospitals. This included dealing with supervisors (charge
nurses and house supervisors) and waiting for supervisors to
arrive in person when there are conflicts.⁷
On October 31, 2017, Wubbels agreed to a settlement of
$500,000, with the cost being shared by the University of
Utah and the Salt Lake City Police Department. The University of Utah shared in the responsibility because of the
inaction by the University of Utah police department officer at the time of the arrest.
The patient, whose blood was the subject of this situation,
died from his injuries on September 25, 2017.
Lessons for All Healthcare Providers
Could this situation happen at your facility? Certainly. It is imperative that health information management (HIM) departments, compliance officers, and privacy officers keep current
on all laws, including case law. Healthcare professionals must
ensure their organization’s policies and procedures reflect the
law, and be vigilant about tracking anything happening in the
courts that might impact healthcare law.
Regularly—at least yearly—providers should review state
healthcare laws, particularly laws affecting health information
and compulsory process, and determine if changes to policies and
procedures are needed. It’s vitally important to understand how
to determine which law, federal or state, applies in a given state.
Organizations should review their relationships with local law
enforcement. Does the provider work cooperatively with the local police department? Does it have written procedures and/or
agreements in place? These are prudent steps HIM professionals should take to avoid future conflict. ¢
1. Manson, Pamela. “Video shows Utah nurse screaming, being handcuffed after refusing to take blood from unconscious victim (video accompanying article).” Salt Lake Tribune. August, 31, 2017. www.sltrib.com/news/2017/08/31/
2. Utah State Legislature. “Title 41 Chapter 6a Part 5 Section 520.” UtahMotorVehicleTrafficCode.ht tps://
3. Cassell, Paul. “Cop who arrested nurse was wrong, but the law
is complicated.” Salt Lake Tribune. September 1, 2017. www.sl-
4. Manson, Pamela. “Utah nurse reaches $500,000 settlement in
dispute over her arrest for blocking cop from drawing blood from
patient.” Salt Lake Tribune. October 31, 2017. www.sltrib.com/
5. Manson, Pamela. “Video shows Utah nurse screaming... .”
6. Hawkins, Derek. “Utah police officer fired after manhandling, arresting nurse who was doing her job.” Washington
Post. October 11, 2017. www.washingtonpost.com/news/
7. University of Utah. “University of Utah Hospitals and Salt
Lake City Police Department Policies.” October 11, 2017.
Jill Burrington-Brown ( JBurrington-Brown@skagitregionalhealth.org) is
the corporate privacy officer for Skagit Regional Health.