No jail time for Tennessee nurse convicted of deadly drug error

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

Davidson County prison court docket Decide Jennifer Smith on Friday granted Vaught a judicial diversion, which implies 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 medicine mix-up suffered a “horrible loss” and “nothing that occurs right here right this moment can ease that loss.”

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

The decide famous that Vaught had no prison file, has been faraway from the well being care setting, and can by no means apply 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 particular person” who wouldn’t need Vaught to serve any jail time, he stated, however his widower father wished Murphey to obtain “the utmost sentence.”

“My dad suffers daily from this,” Michael Murphey stated. “He goes out to the graveyard three to 4 instances per week and simply sits on the market and cries.”

Vaught’s case stands out as a result of medical errors – even lethal ones – are typically throughout the purview of state medical boards and lawsuits and are virtually by no means prosecuted in prison 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 complete nursing occupation. Prosecutors argued in trial that Vaught missed a number of warning indicators when she grabbed the mistaken 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 targeted on arguments that an sincere mistake shouldn’t represent against the law.

Throughout the listening to on Friday, Vaught stated she was perpetually 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 particular person,” Vaught stated, her voice quivering as she started to cry. “When Ms. Murphey died, part of me died along 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 could have pressured the household to relive their loss.

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

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

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

“I am not going to override something past primary saline. I simply do not feel snug doing it anymore,” Collins stated. “Whenever you criminalize what well being care employees 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 appreciable 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 automobile so he may protest Vaught’s sentencing. The occasions had 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 daily,” 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 prison prosecution for medical errors and would pursue related payments “in each state.”

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

“She should not have been charged within the first place,” Vinsant stated. “I need her to not serve jail time, after all, however the sentence does 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 may have been me.”

“And if it was me, and I seemed out that window and noticed 1,000 individuals who supported me, I would really feel higher,” she stated. “As a result of for each a type 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 khn.org 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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