No jail time for Tennessee nurse convicted of deadly drug error

RaDonda Vaught, a former Tennessee nurse convicted of two felonies for a deadly drug error, whose trial turned a rallying cry for nurses petrified of the criminalization of medical errors, won’t be required to spend any time in jail.

Davidson County felony court docket Decide Jennifer Smith on Friday granted Vaught a judicial diversion, which suggests her conviction shall be expunged if she completes a three-year probation.

Smith stated that the household of the affected person who died because of Vaught’s remedy mix-up suffered a “horrible loss” and “nothing that occurs right here in the present day can ease that loss.”

“Miss Vaught is effectively conscious of the seriousness of the offense,” Smith stated. “She credibly expressed regret on this courtroom.”

The decide famous that Vaught had no felony report, has been faraway from the well being care setting, and can by no means follow nursing once more. The decide additionally stated, “This was a horrible, horrible mistake and there have been penalties to the defendant.”

Because the sentence was learn, cheers erupted from a crowd of tons of of purple-clad protesters who gathered exterior the courthouse in opposition to Vaught’s prosecution.

Vaught, 38, a former nurse at Vanderbilt College Medical Middle in Nashville, confronted as much as eight years in jail. In March she was convicted of criminally negligent murder and gross neglect of an impaired grownup for the 2017 dying of 75-year-old affected person Charlene Murphey. Murphey was prescribed Versed, a sedative, however Vaught inadvertently gave her a deadly dose of vecuronium, a robust paralyzer.

Charlene Murphey’s son, Michael Murphey, testified at Friday’s sentencing listening to that his household stays devastated by the sudden dying of their matriarch. She was “a really forgiving individual” who wouldn’t need Vaught to serve any jail time, he stated, however his widower father needed Murphey to obtain “the utmost sentence.”

“My dad suffers each day from this,” Michael Murphey stated. “He goes out to the graveyard three to 4 occasions every week and simply sits on the market and cries.”

Vaught’s case stands out as a result of medical errors – even lethal ones – are usually inside the purview of state medical boards and lawsuits and are virtually by no means prosecuted in felony court docket.

The Davidson County district lawyer’s workplace, which didn’t advocate for any explicit sentence or oppose probation, has described Vaught’s case as an indictment of 1 careless nurse, not your entire nursing profession. Prosecutors argued in trial that Vaught missed a number of warning indicators when she grabbed the fallacious drug, together with failing to note Versed is a liquid and vecuronium is a powder.

Vaught admitted her error after the mix-up was found, and her protection largely centered on arguments that an sincere mistake shouldn’t represent against the law.

In the course of the listening to on Friday, Vaught stated she was ceaselessly modified by Murphey’s dying and was “open and sincere” about her error in an effort to stop future errors by different nurses. Vaught additionally stated there was no public curiosity in sentencing her to jail as a result of she couldn’t presumably re-offend after her nursing license was revoked.

“I’ve misplaced way over simply my nursing license and my profession. I’ll by no means be the identical individual,” Vaught stated, her voice quivering as she started to cry. “When Ms. Murphey died, part of me died together with her.”

At one level throughout her assertion, Vaught turned to face Murphey’s household, apologizing for each the deadly error and the way the general public marketing campaign in opposition to her prosecution might have compelled the household to relive their loss.

“You do not deserve this,” Vaught stated. “I hope it doesn’t come throughout as individuals forgetting your beloved. … I feel we’re simply in the course of techniques that do not perceive each other.”

Prosecutors additionally argued at trial that Vaught circumvented safeguards by switching the hospital’s computerized remedy cupboard into “override” mode, which made it attainable to withdraw medicines not prescribed to Murphey, together with vecuronium. Different nurses and nursing consultants have informed KHN that overrides are routinely utilized in many hospitals to entry remedy rapidly.

Theresa Collins, a journey nurse from Georgia who intently adopted the trial, stated she is going to not use the function, even when it delays sufferers’ care, after prosecutors argued it proved Vaught’s recklessness.

“I am not going to override something past fundamental saline. I simply do not feel comfy doing it anymore,” Collins stated. “While you criminalize what well being care staff do, it modifications the entire ballgame.”

Vaught’s prosecution drew condemnation from nursing and medical organizations that stated the case’s harmful precedent would worsen the nursing scarcity and make nurses much less forthcoming about errors.

The case additionally spurred considerable backlash on social media as nurses streamed the trial by Fb and rallied behind Vaught on TikTok. That outrage impressed Friday’s protest in Nashville, which drew supporters from so far as Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Nevada.

Amongst these protesters was David Peterson, a nurse who marched Thursday in Washington, D.C., to demand well being care reforms and safer nurse-patient staffing ratios, then drove by the evening to Nashville and slept in his automotive so he might protest Vaught’s sentencing. The occasions have been inherently intertwined, he stated.

“The issues being protested in Washington, practices in place due to poor staffing in hospitals, that is precisely what occurred to RaDonda. And it places each nurse in danger each day,” Peterson stated. “It is trigger and impact.”

Tina Vinsant, a Knoxville nurse and podcaster who organized the Nashville protest, stated the group had spoken with Tennessee lawmakers about laws to guard nurses from felony prosecution for medical errors and would pursue comparable payments “in each state.”

Vinsant stated they might pursue this marketing campaign although Vaught was not despatched to jail.

“She should not have been charged within the first place,” Vinsant stated. “I would like her to not serve jail time, in fact, however the sentence would not actually have an effect on the place we go from right here.”

Janis Peterson, a just lately retired ICU nurse from Massachusetts, stated she attended the protest after recognizing in Vaught’s case the all-too-familiar challenges from her personal nursing profession. Peterson’s concern was a standard chorus amongst nurses: “It could have been me.”

“And if it was me, and I regarded out that window and noticed 1,000 individuals who supported me, I might really feel higher,” she stated. “As a result of for each a kind of 1,000, there are in all probability 10 extra who help her however could not come.”

Nashville Public Radio’s Blake Farmer contributed to this report.

Kaiser Health NewsThis text was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Household Basis. Kaiser Well being Information, an editorially impartial information service, is a program of the Kaiser Household Basis, a nonpartisan well being care coverage analysis group unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.



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