Tennessee nurse found guilty on two counts in landmark decision

by mcardinal

Savannah Hulsey Pointer, FISM News 


Former Tennessee nurse RaDonda Vaught, 38, was convicted Friday for negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult resulting from an incident in 2017. The verdict followed a three-day trial in Nashville and could have long-reaching implications for medical professionals.

Vaught, who previously worked as a nurse at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center was indicted in December of 2017 for the death of Charlene Murphey, who died after Vaught mistakenly injected her with the powerful paralyzing drug vecuronium, instead of the sedative Versed.

Vaught immediately admitted to the error that left Murphey unable to breathe, causing the 75-year-old woman’s death according to The New York Post. Prosecutors accused Vaught of disregarding warnings from the electronic dispensing cabinet where they assert she had to search for the drug by name. 

Some believe the hospital was to blame, as multiple medical professionals testified that the machines had malfunctioned multiple times in 2017. Others testified, however, that they were fixed before the incident that led to Murphey’s death.

“This wasn’t an accident or mistake as it’s been claimed,” Assistant District Attorney Chad Jackson told jurors, referring to the fact that it was ruled an accident by the coroner. “There were multiple chances for RaDonda Vaught to just pay attention.”

Vaught’s attorney claimed she was wrongly made into a scapegoat after her hospital became the subject of a surprise inspection by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Someone has to pay the price, and it’s really easy to say, ‘Just let her do it.’ Nurses see that. Medics see it. Radiology technicians see it.

Nursing advocacy groups were “shocked” at the verdict and believe it could open health professionals up to excessive risk, and could ultimately have a negative effect on patient safety. 

“What RaDonda Vaught’s conviction means is if a nurse makes a medication error, rather than this being an administrative issue as it has been for decades, nurses can face criminal charges such as neglect, assault, and homicide,” Nurse advocacy group Show Me Your Stethoscope said in a statement on their Facebook page.

“What’s happened here is that health care has been completely changed,” founder Janie Harvey Garner told the Associated Press. “Now when we tell the truth, we’re incriminating ourselves.”

The American Nurses Association also denounced the verdict, saying, “It is inevitable that mistakes will happen, and systems will fail. It is completely unrealistic to think otherwise. The criminalization of medical errors is unnerving, and this verdict sets into motion a dangerous precedent. ”

The Office of the District Attorney General in Nashville defended the verdict, saying, “The jury’s conviction of RaDonda Vaught was not an indictment against the nursing profession or the medical community. This case was, and always has been about the gross neglect by RaDonda Vaught that caused the death of Charlene Murphey.”

Vaught addressed the large number of nurses that attended the trial in her support following the verdict. “I don’t think that the takeaway message here is not to be honest and truthful,” Vaught said. “You just, you guys do what you do. Do it well. Don’t let this defeat you mentally. Keep your standards.”

Murphey’s family, who attended the trial last week, declined to comment Friday, according to the Tennessean.

Vaught faces six years in prison for the gross neglect conviction and one to two years for criminally negligent homicide.