Posts Tagged police
The police are more-or-less a permanent fixture in every Emergency department. They bring in the drunks, the suicidal, the psychotic, the homeless and yes, the criminal, who have either sustained injuries as a result of their activities, or else have developed sudden (and convenient) cardiac symptoms upon their arrest. Most of us in Acme Regional’s ED will cooperate with the police to the point of expediting whatever they need us to do, which usually means filling out the Form 1 or medically clearing the patient. At the same time, most of are pretty clear that ED nurses and physicians are not an extension of the Police Service: police objectives and those of health care, to state the obvious, are not the same.
It isn’t exactly mistrust. It’s more a wariness. There are ethical and legal issues involved. We cannot, for example, divulge patient information, so there is the constant dance of the police asking for information they know we won’t give them. Come back with a subpoena, we tell them. They try anyway.
Then there is this: what do when the police bring in someone who, well, they’ve been beating on. It isn’t common, I should emphasize, but it isn’t so rare that it excites comment either. The police will say (nudge, nudge) the patient fell on the pavement while being arrested. Or banged his head while getting into the cruiser. Or the wall hit his face. Which may even be partly true. The patient usually says nothing at all.
So what do we do about it? Approximately nothing. We might document the injuries, in case there are legal problems down the road. Or not. We are definitely not going to make any allegations about misuse of force. Who wants to travel that road, full of traps and pitfalls and paper by the mile plus, of course, the undying enmity of the local cops? I have seen a few pretty egregious cases, and we did exactly that — nothing. As well, I suppose many of us don’t want to second guess the police: I mean, who knows how things really go down, right? And we say, didn’t he deserve it anyway?
But how does this make anyone accountable? Including ourselves? And don’t we have a legal system in place to adjudicate innocence and guilt, and administer punishment?
It’s a moral swamp. And having thought about it long and hard, I’m not clear what, if anything, that can be done about it in practical terms. ED staff are not the guardians of the guardians. So we document. Poor excuse, I know.
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.
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.