Health and Fitness

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 grew to become a rallying cry for nurses terrified of the criminalization of medical errors, is not going to be required to spend any time in jail.

Davidson County prison court docket Judge Jennifer Smith on Friday granted Vaught a judicial diversion, which implies her conviction might be expunged if she completes a three-year probation.

Smith mentioned that the household of the affected person who died because of Vaught’s remedy mix-up suffered a “terrible loss” and “nothing that happens here today can ease that loss.”

“Miss Vaught is well aware of the seriousness of the offense,” Smith mentioned. “She credibly expressed remorse in 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 mentioned, “This was a terrible, terrible mistake and there have been consequences to the defendant.”

As the sentence was learn, cheers erupted from a crowd of a whole lot of purple-clad protesters who gathered outdoors the courthouse in opposition to Vaught’s prosecution.

Vaught, 38, a former nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center 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 loss of life 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 strong paralyzer.

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

“My dad suffers every day from this,” Michael Murphey mentioned. “He goes out to the graveyard three to four times a week and just sits out there 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 nearly by no means prosecuted in prison court docket.

The Davidson County district lawyer’s workplace, which didn’t advocate for any specific sentence or oppose probation, has described Vaught’s case as an indictment of 1 careless nurse, not your entire nursing occupation. Prosecutors argued in trial that Vaught ignored 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 targeted on arguments that an trustworthy mistake shouldn’t represent against the law.

During the listening to on Friday, Vaught mentioned she was ceaselessly modified by Murphey’s loss of life and was “open and honest” about her error in an effort to forestall future errors by different nurses. Vaught additionally mentioned 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 have lost far more than just my nursing license and my career. I will never be the same person,” Vaught mentioned, her voice quivering as she started to cry. “When Ms. Murphey died, a part of me died 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 towards her prosecution might have pressured the household to relive their loss.

“You don’t deserve this,” Vaught mentioned. “I hope it does not come across as people forgetting your loved one. … I think we are just in the middle of systems that don’t understand one another.”

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

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

“I’m not going to override anything beyond basic saline. I just don’t feel comfortable doing it anymore,” Collins mentioned. “When you criminalize what health care workers do, it changes the whole ballgame.”

Vaught’s prosecution drew condemnation from nursing and medical organizations that mentioned 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 via Facebook 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.

Among 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 via the night time to Nashville and slept in his automobile so he might protest Vaught’s sentencing. The occasions have been inherently intertwined, he mentioned.

“The things being protested in Washington, practices in place because of poor staffing in hospitals, that’s exactly what happened to RaDonda. And it puts every nurse at risk every day,” Peterson mentioned. “It’s cause and effect.”

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

Vinsant mentioned they might pursue this marketing campaign regardless that Vaught was not despatched to jail.

“She shouldn’t have been charged in the first place,” Vinsant mentioned. “I want her not to serve jail time, of course, but the sentence doesn’t really affect where we go from here.”

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

“And if it was me, and I looked out that window and saw 1,000 people who supported me, I’d feel better,” she mentioned. “Because for every one of those 1,000, there are probably 10 more who support her but couldn’t come.”

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

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially unbiased information service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan well being care coverage analysis group unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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