NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nurses traveled from around the country to protest on Friday outside the courthouse where a former Tennessee nurse faced up to eight years in prison for mistakenly causing the death of a patient.
RaDonda Vaught was found guilty in March of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult after she accidentally administered the wrong medication.
The maximum sentence is unlikely given her lack of prior offenses. A presentencing report rated her risk of reoffending as “low.” Still, her conviction has become a rallying point for many nurses who were already fed up with poor working conditions exacerbated by the pandemic.
Some have left bedside nursing for administrative positions while others have left the profession altogether, saying the risk of going to prison for a mistake has made nursing intolerable.
The sentencing comes a day after International Nurses Day, and some nurses drove to Nashville from a march for better working conditions in Washington D.C. on Thursday. Among dozens of demonstrators outside the courthouse, some wore T-shirts that read “I Am RaDonda” and “Seeking Justice for Nurses and Patients in a BROKEN system.”
“Everyone I talk to is furious about it,” said Janie Harvey Garner, a nurse who founded the advocacy group Show Me Your Stethoscope and helped raise money for Vaught’s defense. “She shouldn’t have been able to practice nursing again. She should have been disciplined by the (nursing) board, but jail?”
Harvey, who was driving to the courthouse from Georgia, said it was “terrifying” to think she could be prosecuted for a mistake. She predicted that nurses will start trying to cover up their errorsrather than report them. Vaught reported her error as soon as she realized what she had done wrong.
Vaught, 38, injected the paralyzing drug vecuronium into 75-year-old Charlene Murphey instead of the sedative Versed on Dec. 26, 2017. Vaught freely admitted to making several errors, but her defense attorney argued that systemic problems at Vanderbilt University Medical Center were at least partly to blame.
At the nurse’s trial, an expert witness for the state argued that Vaught violated the standard of care expected of nurses. In addition to grabbing the wrong medicine, she failed to read the name of the drug, did not notice a red warning on the top of the medication, and did not stay with the patient to check for an adverse reaction, nurse legal consultant Donna Jones said.
Leanna Craft, a nurse educator at the neurological intensive care unit where Vaught worked, testified that it was common for nurses at that time to override the system in order to get drugs. The hospital had recently updated an electronic records system, which led to delays in retrieving medications. There was also no scanner in the imaging area for Vaught to scan the medication against the patient’s ID bracelet.
The jury found Vaught not guilty of reckless homicide. Criminally negligent homicide was a lesser offense included under the original charge.