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No Prison Time for Tennessee Nurse Convicted of Fatal 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, won’t be required to spend any time in jail.

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

Smith mentioned the Murphey household 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 choose famous that Vaught had no prison document, has been faraway from the well being care setting, and can by no means follow nursing once more. The choose 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 tons of 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 robust 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 wished 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 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 the whole nursing career. Prosecutors argued in trial that Vaught ignored a number of warning indicators when she grabbed the unsuitable 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 mustn’t represent against the law.

During the listening to on Friday, Vaught mentioned she was endlessly 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 in opposition to 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 doable to withdraw drugs not prescribed to Murphey, together with vecuronium. Other nurses and nursing specialists have informed 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 function, 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 automotive 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 related payments “in every state.”

Vinsant mentioned they’d 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 not too long ago 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 standard chorus amongst nurses: “It could 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.”

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is likely one of the three main working applications at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering data on well being points to the nation.


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