UCLA Health experts address patient safety and relationships with law enforcement in clinical setting

A year after the murder of George Floyd, a panel was convened to discuss the intersection of health care and law enforcement, including protecting the constitutional rights of patients.

“How do we measure a life?”

That was a question posed by Anna Spain Bradley, UCLA Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, during the opening remarks of the third installment of the Equity and Justice Action Series: Law Enforcement in the Health Care Setting.

“How will you measure yours? Is it through the heights we achieve? The friends we keep? The loved ones we nurture? The money we make? The answer is for each of us to say,” she said.

“George Floyd and so many others are not here to say.”

On May 25, UCLA Health commemorated Floyd during a webinar discussion of the conversations and actions that have been sparked since his murder, with an emphasis on becoming stronger advocates at the intersection of health care and law enforcement.

The panel, moderated by Medell Briggs-Malonson, MD, MPH, chief of Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for the UCLA Hospital System, addressed topics ranging from experiences on policing in the clinical environment to advocating on behalf of patients and creating positive changes on local, state and national levels.

Laura Halpin, MD, PhD, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry; Ignacio Calles, MD, Emergency Medicine; and Catherine Juillard, MD, MPH, Trauma Surgery and Critical Care, set the tone by sharing patient stories and first-person accounts of law enforcement in the clinical setting and the effects law enforcement has on patients, medical professionals and especially people of color.

“When I interact with law enforcement, I am different than the way I normally conduct myself,” said Dr. Calles, speaking from his lived experiences.

He said the inherent anxiety he feels in the presence of police might feed into the anxiety felt by the patients in custody.

“It absolutely extends to my ability to provide safe and complete care to patients, as well as my ability to be a good doctor,” he said.

Dr. Julliard, who is helping to develop a trauma-informed curriculum for medical trainees, said the biases put on patients begin “in the field,” or with the person who witnesses the trauma and calls 911. These biases infiltrate the reports that the paramedics receive and share with other medical professionals.

“These things affect how our health care providers view the patient and how we treat the patient,” she said.

Dr. Julliard emphasized that language, such as calling patients “combative, agitated or drunk,” matters and has direct impacts on our biases and patient outcomes.

“(Patients) are by definition in a vulnerable position and need our advocacy and our protection while they're being treated for life-threatening injuries,” Dr. Julliard said. “It is not the time for them to be questioned about events.”

‘Care first, jail last’

The 90-minute Zoom included conversations with Sgt. Harry Standberry and Officer London McBride of the University of California Police Department, and perspectives from Michael Mensah, MD, MPH, co-chief resident of UCLA Psychiatry and author of a recent journal article on decoupling crisis response from policing.

Additionally, panelists Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson, the founder of Frontline Wellness Network, and Ji Seon Song, JD, a Thomas C. Grey Fellow of Law at Stanford Law School, provided community and policy insights, offering a “care first, jail last” approach.

Song provided medical professionals with three principles of advice in addressing policing concerns in the clinical setting:

  1. Educate yourself on the way that hospital policies and your own actions can have profound implications on the constitutional rights of your patients.
  2. Determine all the ways hospital policies and practices intersect with police.
  3. Formulate policies on how to best interface with external law enforcement agencies and work together to find health-based solutions.

The virtual event concluded with a look at UCLA’s own policies. Dr. Briggs-Malonson took recommendations from panelists and the audience on ways to improve patient experiences, outcomes and safety in hospitals and clinics. Recommendations will be compiled and shared with the UCLA Health community.

Dr. Briggs-Malonson emphasized that to continue this work, every voice must continue to advocate for social justice within health care and beyond.

She says we must all, “take an active role in creating productive and successful solutions to improve the systems, culture and climate of our organization and our community, to eliminate racism and to continue to uphold just principles and actions.”

For more information, visit the Health Equity, Diversity & Inclusion website at UCLA Health.