For years, doctors who worked at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis were allowed to work on the side as police officers. But now, a new health system policy says they have to choose one or the other.
Hennepin Healthcare announced that it would also end its contract for medical instruction with the Minneapolis police, and will ban its doctors from taking second jobs as law enforcement officers, according to a report from the Star Tribune.
In a March 14 letter to staff obtained by the newspaper, Daniel Hoody, MD, interim chief medical officer of Hennepin Healthcare, stated that “physicians will no longer be allowed to be dually employed by Hennepin Healthcare as a medical staff member and by a law enforcement agency.”
“We are hearing from our community and colleagues that ongoing mistrust, especially around the unclear relationship between health care and law enforcement, is impacting the ability of some to feel safe seeking care,” Hoody wrote.
In a statement to MedPage Today, Hennepin Healthcare confirmed that these steps to ban dual employment “clarify our relationship with law enforcement and other first responders to focus on the provision of care to the patients we serve.”
“We will continue to collaborate with public safety agencies to ensure that we are able to provide the highest level of care to our patients,” a spokesperson noted.
Edwin Lindo, JD, an assistant professor and critical race theory scholar at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, said that the decision to prohibit doctors from dual employment as police officers “only makes sense.”
Dual employment as a doctor and police officer creates a blurred line between responsibilities to fulfill the Hippocratic Oath and responsibilities to enforce the law, Lindo said. Hospital policies that ban this type of dual employment are “creating a clear delineation of what the priority is” — the patients.
“At the end of the day, the hospital is not and should not be an extension of the carceral system,” Lindo told MedPage Today.
While Hennepin Healthcare employs more than 800 clinicians, only three work for law enforcement agencies: emergency physicians Paul Nystrom, MD, Jeffrey Ho, MD, and Gregg Jones, MD. None of their lawyers responded to a request for comment.
In a previous interview with the Star Tribune, Ho said that he sees no conflict of interest between his medical and law enforcement roles. “It is my life’s work to develop these areas of intersection for the benefit of public protection,” he said.
E. Reed Smith, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University and the operational medical director for the Arlington County Fire and Police Departments, agreed that “the interface between law enforcement and medicine is there.”
It is common for doctors to provide medical guidance to police departments on Narcan programs for citizen overdoses, CPR, and first aid prior to EMS arrival, Smith told MedPage Today. Physician involvement in law enforcement also allows injured people to receive immediate care in high-threat scenarios, he noted.
Some smaller departments may not be able to fully employ medical staff, Smith added, so many rely on outside contracts or volunteers. The policy being implemented by Hennepin Healthcare is disappointing, he said, because it could potentially bar some departments from getting medical support.
According to a March 21 email obtained by the Star Tribune, Nystrom said that he will be terminated as of June 5.
“I was recently given an ultimatum to either quit policing or be terminated by [Hennepin], and I decided not to quit my police job,” Nystrom wrote. In response to a request for comment from the Star Tribune, Nystrom’s lawyer said that his client was “extremely disappointed” to be leaving his colleagues, “but he’s certainly not disappointed to be done working under the lack of leadership demonstrated by Hennepin Healthcare’s executive team.”
Nystrom was previously criticized by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey for failing to remove lessons on “excited delirium” from his medical instruction courses to police officers. Excited delirium is a highly controversial concept that describes abrupt onset of aggression, specifically in people who use drugs. It has been opposed by many medical professional organizations, including the American Medical Association.
Following the criticism from the mayor, leadership from Hennepin Healthcare issued an apology, stating that they “failed to follow through on our promise to no longer teach excited delirium and to be intentional in addressing systemic racism.”
Recently, Hennepin Healthcare released an updated version of the training course that does not contain lessons on excited delirium.