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Are nurses allowed to turn in wanted criminals?

Nurses   (9,571 Views | 31 Replies)

Emergent has 25 years experience .

7 Followers; 2 Articles; 66,404 Profile Views; 2,899 Posts

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whichone'spink has 3 years experience as a BSN, RN.

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Sorry, but this has struck such a deep chord. Wow, you really wouldn't keep the public safe? What if that person killed after you saw them, have you no conscience? WOW, JUST WOW.

That is a different case altogether. If I saw them commit murder, then I would alert authorities.

Anyone who admits to doing something while they are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol is bound to create a legal sticky situation for me. What if their lawyer finds out I charted a note about the patient admitting to committing a crime, and that I went to the police afterwards. That's what that nurse did. They can argue their client was not in their right mind, and that I violated their privacy. Plus, I have taken care of plenty of people not in their right minds, most recently having worked in the PACU. People say stupid crap when they are under the influence of some mind-altering substance.

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SunnyPupRN specializes in Psych.

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I work as a clinical nursing manager in a 28 day behavioral health/drug treatment program. As you can imagine, a large portion of our patients come in with pending charges, previous convictions, etc. And although we ask during admission pre-screen in they have any outstanding warrants or pending charges, it's not uncommon for them to fib and end up admitted with active warrants. We do not turn our patients in. We've had situations where police are

tipped off by a member of the public as to their location, and the sheriff will call and ask if we have that patient. In that case, we do tell them if that person is in our facility. I would think this is something, especially in an ER, that is has a clearly spelled out policy written on how to address. You should check with your supervisor or P&P's for your individual facility for guidance.

I wonder if this policy varies...at a behavioural facility where I worked, if police or parole officers called wanting to know if a parolee was there, we told them that we could not confirm or deny. We were told it was definitely a privacy violation.

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BSNbeDONE specializes in Med/Surg, LTACH, LTC, Home Health.

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Thats a dramatic stretch. Treating someones asthma attack in my ER does not make me complicit in the murder they committed. I am not law enforcement.

But if you treat them knowing they committed murder, say nothing about it, and watch them walk back on the street, how would you feel if they killed again, knowing you could have and should have done your part to prevent it? How would you feel if another nurse failed to notify authorities about a murderer and as a result, your family member was injured, kidnapped, or killed by that criminal? I stand by my views on this one and it is the policy of our hospital if we know someone is wanted by the authorities. Making an anonymous phone call, in the OP's scenario, would protect him anyway. ANYONE in that ER could have seen that person's face on tv...even another patient. Would you prefer that another patient or visitor recognized the patient and decide to take matters into his own hands in your ​ER?

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BSNbeDONE specializes in Med/Surg, LTACH, LTC, Home Health.

2,317 Posts; 24,701 Profile Views

That's actually a pretty clear HIPAA violation as it doesn't abide by the notification of law enforcement requirements, and no, treating someone accused of a crime is not aiding and abetting. Aside from the legal definitions of what exactly is required to notify law enforcement of a patient being in your facility, it's also unethical.

I never said that we were not to treat. In fact, I stated that the "patient care continue". But to fail to notify authorities when you know they are wanted is aiding and abetting, HIPAA violation or not.

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TriciaJ has 39 years experience as a RN and specializes in Psych, Corrections, Med-Surg, Ambulatory.

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That is a different case altogether. If I saw them commit murder, then I would alert authorities.

Anyone who admits to doing something while they are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol is bound to create a legal sticky situation for me. What if their lawyer finds out I charted a note about the patient admitting to committing a crime, and that I went to the police afterwards. That's what that nurse did. They can argue their client was not in their right mind, and that I violated their privacy. Plus, I have taken care of plenty of people not in their right minds, most recently having worked in the PACU. People say stupid crap when they are under the influence of some mind-altering substance.

So if you saw them commit murder, you could turn them in. What about if you just recognized them from a wanted poster? The psychotic babbling by itself might not count for much, but what if you had reason to believe there was a basis to it?

And no, you don't chart that you called the police. You call them anonymously. Then let them do their jobs and sort out if the guy is wanted. If the person does manage to go free and kill someone else, at least it won't be on your conscience.

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Buyer beware has 40 years experience as a BSN and specializes in GENERAL.

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I can't believe that someone who has worked ER for 23 years is asking this question. If your ER doesn't have a policy, contact your hospital risk manager stat and get it done.

Screw the policy if the person is Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacey.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph!!!

As the nuns used to say, "keep your wits about you boy/girl!"

Edited by Buyer beware
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1 Article; 2,076 Posts; 22,284 Profile Views

I'm interested in precedent. For mental health providers, there is the Tarasoff case which allows the clinician to intervene if imminent danger is present. The Tarasoff v. Regents case I believe was discussed on this forum in 2005:

https://allnurses.com/psychiatric-nursing/tarasoff-duty-to-132775.html

As the same duty to warn would affect other disciplines in health care I did some reading:

Medscape: Medscape Access

Care providers can be held liable or negligent if a nonpatient 3rd party is harmed and there was reasonable suspicion of the potential.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1229377/pdf/cmaj_158_11_1473.pdf

"Where a threat is directed at a person or group and there is a specific plan that is concrete and capable of commission and the method for carrying it out is available to the threatener, the physician should immediately notify the police and, in appropriate circumstances, the potential victim."

But in less clear-cut cases where there may not be a specific intended victim, or plan, just threats of violence, it gets murky.

One I read related to just nursing seemed vapid and inconclusive:

http://www.nursingworld.org/DocumentVault/Ethics/Practical-Use-of-the-Nursing-Code-of-Ethics-Part-I.aspx

It summarized that patient confidentiality is a priority to maintain nursing as a trusted profession. I'm not satisfied with that within the context of the OP's question.

I think this is an excellent question, Emergent. It's not as simple as many might think. I recommend that if a nurse or clinician encounters such a situation, contact your agency's risk management department so that you can protect yourself, the hospital (or organization) can mitigate violations, and safety can be maintained.

Edited by WKShadowRN

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1,720 Posts; 17,835 Profile Views

Recently in my city, it came out that a suspected murderer now on trial was seen in the ER I used to work in. The nurse that cared for him later reported to the police that the patient told her he killed someone. At the time it was also found he was high on drugs, although I don't know what drugs were found in his system. To me, anything a patient says under the influence of drugs or alcohol should not be reported to the police, because it will definitely be used against them in court. I don't know if HIPAA will cover my ass, or what hospital policy is regarding this matter. But if a patient is under the influence of some mind altering substance and says they committed a crime, it's my own personal policy that I won't say anything or make a note in the chart.

Now if I find out if a patient I have is on the most wanted list, I really don't know what I'd do. Depends on my mood I guess. If the patient treats me and others like dirt, I might be angry enough to search the most wanted list. But I've not done that, even though I've had plenty of obnoxious patients. It's never occurred to me to deliberately look at the most wanted list.

I could see if somebody is completely impaired, but just under the influence?

If somebody is drunk and tells me they have chest pain I believe them. I get medical histories frequently from people influenced by drugs.

So- If I believed other stuff they told, me, I think I would believe admitting to a crime.

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