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 scared of the criminalization of medical errors, won’t be required to spend any time in jail.

Davidson County prison courtroom Choose 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 on account of Vaught’s remedy mix-up suffered a “horrible loss” and “nothing that occurs right here at present can ease that loss.”

“Miss Vaught is effectively conscious of the seriousness of the offense,” Smith mentioned. “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 mentioned, “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 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 College Medical Heart 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 mentioned, however his widower father wished Murphey to obtain “the utmost sentence.”

“My dad suffers day by day from this,” Michael Murphey mentioned. “He goes out to the graveyard three to 4 occasions 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 usually inside the purview of state medical boards and lawsuits and are nearly by no means prosecuted in prison courtroom.

The Davidson County district legal professional’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 profession. 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 centered on arguments that an sincere mistake shouldn’t represent against the law.

Throughout the listening to on Friday, Vaught mentioned 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 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’ve misplaced way over simply my nursing license and my profession. I’ll by no means be the identical individual,” Vaught mentioned, 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 could have compelled the household to relive their loss.

“You do not deserve this,” Vaught mentioned. “I hope it doesn’t come throughout as individuals forgetting the one you love. … I believe 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 doable to withdraw drugs not prescribed to Murphey, together with vecuronium. Different nurses and nursing specialists have instructed KHN that overrides are routinely utilized in many hospitals to entry remedy rapidly.

Theresa Collins, a journey nurse from Georgia who carefully 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 am not going to override something past fundamental saline. I simply do not feel comfy doing it anymore,” Collins mentioned. “If you criminalize what well being care employees do, it modifications the entire 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 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 night time to Nashville and slept in his automotive so he may protest Vaught’s sentencing. The occasions had been inherently intertwined, he mentioned.

“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 day by day,” Peterson mentioned. “It is trigger and impact.”

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 each state.”

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

“She should not have been charged within the first place,” Vinsant mentioned. “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, mentioned 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 typical 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 mentioned. “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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