How a Police Officer Can Get a Nurse Fired

Full disclosure: I drive far too fast on the highway, and I’ve been pulled over once or twice by friendly City of Toronto or O.P.P. constables. I confess I have played the I’m-an-Emergency-nurse card, and usually get waved off with a warning, or at worst a nominal fine. It’s an unspoken courtesy: we’re all emergency workers, and while we might fight like family amongst each other, we stick together too, just like family.

But I would be lying to you if I said there wasn’t an element of quid pro quo, not in the actual care of any police officer, of course, but in the thousand other ways the police need our cooperation. You want to leave quickly with that drunken guy who needs sutures? The goodwill of many a nurse, I think, would be strained if they had just got a whacking fine for speeding. Ideally, this should not happen. Nurses should be fined appropriately for traffic violations, and police should not expect special consideration when they come to hospital for any reason. But the reality is our social and professional existence is greased with such ethical compromises.

This cop was definitely not playing by the rules (and thanks to EKyProgressiveblog and Twitter — for sending me the link):

When Colorado Springs cardiac nurse Miriam Leverington was stopped for speeding, she grumbled to the police officer.

“I hope you are not ever my patient,” she reportedly told him.

What happened next has become a topic of widespread debate in Colorado and on the blogosphere. The police officer, Duaine Peters, complained to the hospital where Ms. Leverington worked that her comment amounted to a threat, suggesting she might give him poor care should he ever become her patient.

The hospital fired the nurse, and now the nurse has countered with a lawsuit. She says she was merely exercising her right to free speech — and expressing her hope that she never see the policeman again.

Aside from the ambiguity of the nurse’s statement (it’s either a threat or, a strong declaration of dislike) is it ever appropriate for the police going to our places of work to complain about our mouthy behaviour? And is being punished by loss of employment maybe a little extreme for essentially telling a cop to flock off?

You get the sense two related things are going on here: nurses are being held to a far higher level of accountability* than the community at large, and this particular nurse violated social norms related to nursing: she wasn’t meek, deferential nor docile, and she had to be punished. I wonder if a paramedic or firefighter had made the same remark — both of whom operate in the charmed circle — the officer would have gone the same extreme to complain, and whether there would have been job losses as a consequence.


*A topic, perhaps, for another post.

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  1. #1 by R. on Wednesday 22 September 2010 - 1201

    Quid pro quo does irritate the hell out of me and I have zero tolerance for a very specific reason…my best friend is an ICU nurse, who happens to think she can drive home after several drinks. She FINALLY got pulled over and almost arrested, when the cop found she was a nurse. Let go. He just followed her home. Where does the line get drawn? People expect it but then complain when it occurs in another setting, politics, favoritism at work, etc. The nurse may have been venting, but she was out of line. He wouldn’t have known she was a nurse had she not told him that and where she worked in an attempt to get out of a ticket. The cop however was doing his job.

    If the situation was reverse – say cop came in off duty to be treated for something and didn’t like the service and said to the nurse “Hope you never get pulled over by me” would nurse then have a right to complain to his place of work? Absolutely, it occurred off hours but the officer would have been using his occupation as a threat or to intimidate.

    Will it change? Not unless people decide to make it, which of course includes not accepting favors.

  2. #2 by R. on Wednesday 22 September 2010 - 1202

    Forgot to say losing her job was excessive.

  3. #3 by Cartoon Character on Wednesday 22 September 2010 - 1210

    Once again – for the same reasons that I do not reveal my employer in my blog… if my opinion doesn’t align with my employer’s, I am not sure of what the consequences might be. I highly doubt that I would be fired for saying something like that here in BC, but I may be on the receiving end of a serious counselling session. The USA seems to be driven more strongly on “customer care” and their reputation in competition within their hospital system – and their RN would be an acting representative if she revealed where she worked – and this would be perceived as bad PR. Therefore, I believe she is the victim of the customer-service-driven system. We tend to forget, at least in BC-with our unions – that working for an employer is a privilege – not a right.
    As for the nurse…it was a display of poor judgement on her part. I might *think* what she verbalized, or tell my friends after the fact under my breath – but to actually *say* something like that to an officer when in the first place I was caught in the wrong….I don’t think so. It doesn’t mean I approve of her punishment – but an employer is not *obliged* to keep someone employed that they feel may jeopardize their reputation – and one’s first amendment rights don’t protect this fact – and unfortunately that nurse was on the receiving end of this. Did the police go overboard? Probably. Do I think that the hospital went overboard? Certainly. But – I don’t think any of it was the consequence of a nurse not seen as “meek”. I would hazard a guess that that police would have complained about ANYONE who crossed him…..

  4. #4 by Cartoon Character on Wednesday 22 September 2010 - 1218

    oh – btw…when I got pulled over by the police for going thru a yellow light…I just apologized and didn’t expect a *favor*….I was wrong…and I admitted it…and took the ticket and paid it. That is it. Period. I really can’t complain when I do something I obviously know to be against the law….then expect to be excused because I am a nurse. It’s called “taking responsibility” and then learning from it…..

  5. #5 by Zoe on Wednesday 22 September 2010 - 1245

    Did she show poor judgment? Yes, and maybe deserved a reprimand of some sort, but I think firing her was a bit excessive.

    When the police bring in a patient when I’m at triage, I do what I can to expedite things. As a citizen, I would prefer the police were out on the street working, rather than being tied up in the ER while an intoxicated “fine, upstanding member of society” gets sutured. I have done this on more than one occasion, and I have reaped the benefits, in a karma sort of way. One day, I had this guy in the waiting room being an ass. There’s no nice way to put it, this guy was king of the jerk-wads. He didn’t threaten me, but came darned close. An RCMP who happened to be there for unrelated reasons (but whom I had done many a favour for over the course of the years) put on his leather gloves, went out to the waiting room, and stood next to this guy. Nothing else, just stood there, hovering over this guy. Said jerk became rather meek, and sat quietly in the waiting room for his turn. The officer stayed with him his entire visit (consisting of about a 2hr visit for minor complaints), then escorted him off of the property. The officer didn’t have to, we didn’t ask him to, but he did it out of professional courtesy.

    That being said, if I broke the law, I would not expect the same professional courtesy.

  6. #6 by Jackie on Wednesday 22 September 2010 - 1304

    Well losing her job is excessive…. I’m sure the officer was having a shit day and that just pushed him over the edge. As a visiting nurse we often work closely with police (we have a few clients where I drive to the police station and an officer drives me (in a cruiser) to the clients house and goes in with me while I visit then takes me back to the police station). I’ve been stopped on occasion but never asked for special treatment. Has it been given to me? Maybe, but if it wasn’t then i’d be ok with that too.

    Just bad press all around.


  7. #7 by Cartoon Character on Wednesday 22 September 2010 - 1928

    my husband likes to watch “Cops” and most of the drivers that are stopped that lip back get told to get out of the car, then are thrown against the hood, handcuffed and dragged to jail. It might be a small consolation….but at least she didn’t spend the night in jail.

  8. #8 by ER Doc on Wednesday 22 September 2010 - 1934

    I’m sorry, don’t buy the defence – she deserved sanction, period…

    Who’s kidding who ?

    Her words could certainly be interpreted as a threat to use her position in demanding / expecting preferential treatment.

    Ethically, that’s a no-no, even if she IS “off duty”.

    And I don’t buy the assertion that it was “protected” under her First Amendment rights, or that it was a non-specific expression of dislike : give me a break – typical American lawyer defend at all costs crap.

    She poshed the limits, and got called on it.

    One of my ER docs tried this stunt with a police officer (who also complained), and was fired, period.

    His license was also temporarily rescinded until he had attended appropriate ethics updating.

  9. #9 by Scott K on Wednesday 22 September 2010 - 1955

    I live in a small Eastern Ont town. Twice I’ve been pulled over Once for towing a trailer with out lights and once for speeding. Both times it was pointed out by the cops “that your the nurse that works on the psych floor” Both times I was let go with a warning. I didn’t ask for any special treatment but as a “male nurse” I tend to stand out in a code white. If I expect to be given special and don’t get it than go out of my way to piss off the cop I’m just asking for trouble. (Just to let everyone know I hate the term “male nurse” I’m a nurse period.)

  10. #10 by SiliconeMomma on Wednesday 22 September 2010 - 2323

    Have I told you lately how much I love your blog? Because I DO!

  11. #12 by wesley johnson on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 1247

    I have an unrelated topic someone might be able to answer. I went to the ER after alcohol tipped my health over the edge(six beers was nothing to me at the time but all my vital nutrients were low when i started drinking and became strangely dizzy and puked/dry heaves.) Anyways, my schizo girlfriends mom(diagnosed) began to throw a fit in the waiting room which attracted the police. The police then came into the room where I was being treated and questioned me about the whole night while i was still recooperating. My question is, are the nurses breaking any code of ethics by letting them into my operating room to question me about a completely unrelated topic? they never asked for my permission and i was still dillusional. please reply

  12. #13 by torontoemerg on Wednesday 02 May 2012 - 1817

    From my point of view — from your description of events — yes, because my first duty is to my patient, not to the police, and similarly I am not an adjunct to police investigations. Also there are huge confidentiality issues. Also because the ED is not a police station. I would have kicked their silly asses out.

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