Nicole Hester/The Tennessean/AP
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RaDonda Vaught, a former nurse criminally prosecuted for a deadly drug error in 2017, was convicted of gross neglect of an impaired grownup and negligent murder on Friday after a three-day trial in Nashville, Tenn., that gripped nurses throughout the nation.
Vaught faces three to 6 years in jail for neglect and one to 2 years for negligent murder as a defendant with no prior convictions, in line with sentencing pointers offered by the Nashville district lawyer’s workplace. Vaught is scheduled to be sentenced Could 13, and her sentences are more likely to run concurrently, mentioned the district lawyer’s spokesperson, Steve Hayslip.
Vaught was acquitted of reckless murder. Criminally negligent murder was a lesser cost included underneath reckless murder.
Vaught’s trial has been intently watched by nurses and medical professionals throughout the U.S., a lot of whom fear it may set a precedent of criminalizing medical errors. Medical errors are usually dealt with by skilled licensing boards or civil courts, and prison prosecutions like Vaught’s case are exceedingly uncommon.
Janie Harvey Garner, the founding father of Present Me Your Stethoscope, a nursing group on Fb with greater than 600,000 members, worries the conviction could have a chilling impact on nurses disclosing their very own errors or close to errors, which may have a detrimental impact on the standard of affected person care.
“Well being care simply modified endlessly,” she mentioned after the decision. “You’ll be able to not belief individuals to inform the reality as a result of they are going to be incriminating themselves.”
Within the wake of the decision, the American Nurses Affiliation issued a statement expressing related considerations about Vaught’s conviction, saying it units a “harmful precedent” of “criminalizing the trustworthy reporting of errors.” Some medical errors are “inevitable,” the assertion mentioned, and there are extra “efficient and simply mechanisms” to handle them than prison prosecution.
“The nursing occupation is already extraordinarily short-staffed, strained and going through immense strain — an unlucky multi-year development that was additional exacerbated by the consequences of the pandemic,” the assertion mentioned. “This ruling could have a long-lasting damaging influence on the occupation.”
Vaught, 38, of Bethpage, Tenn., was arrested in 2019 and charged with reckless murder and gross neglect of an impaired grownup in reference to the killing of Charlene Murphey, who died at Vanderbilt College Medical Heart in late December 2017. The neglect cost stemmed from allegations that Vaught didn’t correctly monitor Murphey after she was injected with the mistaken drug.
Murphey, 75, of Gallatin, Tenn., was admitted to Vanderbilt for a mind damage. On the time of the error, her situation was bettering, and she or he was being ready for discharge from the hospital, in line with courtroom testimony and a federal investigation report. Murphey was prescribed a sedative, Versed, to calm her earlier than being scanned in a big MRI-like machine.
Vaught was tasked to retrieve Versed from a computerized medicine cupboard however as an alternative grabbed a robust paralyzer, vecuronium. In response to an investigation report filed in her courtroom case, the nurse neglected a number of warning indicators as she withdrew the mistaken drug — together with that Versed is a liquid however vecuronium is a powder — after which injected Murphey and left her to be scanned. By the point the error was found, Murphey was brain-dead.
In the course of the trial, prosecutors painted Vaught as an irresponsible and uncaring nurse who ignored her coaching and deserted her affected person. Assistant District Lawyer Chad Jackson likened Vaught to a drunk driver who killed a bystander however mentioned the nurse was “worse” as a result of it was as if she had been “driving with [her] eyes closed.”
“The immutable truth of this case is that Charlene Murphey is lifeless as a result of RaDonda Vaught couldn’t hassle to concentrate to what she was doing,” Jackson mentioned.
Vaught’s lawyer, Peter Strianse, argued that his shopper made an trustworthy mistake that didn’t represent a criminal offense and have become a “scapegoat” for systemic issues associated to medicine cupboards at Vanderbilt College Medical Heart in 2017.
However Vanderbilt officers countered on the stand. Terry Bosen, Vanderbilt’s pharmacy medicine security officer, testified that the hospital had some technical issues with medicine cupboards in 2017 however that they had been resolved weeks earlier than Vaught pulled the mistaken drug for Murphey.
In his closing argument, Strianse focused the reckless murder cost, arguing that his shopper couldn’t have “recklessly” disregarded warning indicators if she earnestly believed she had the proper drug and saying there was “appreciable debate” over whether or not vecuronium really killed Murphey.
In the course of the trial, Eli Zimmerman, a Vanderbilt neurologist, testified it was “within the realm of chance” that Murphey’s demise was induced totally by her mind damage. Moreover, Davidson County Chief Medical Examiner Feng Li testified that though he decided Murphey died from vecuronium, he could not confirm how a lot of the drug she really obtained. Li mentioned a small dose could not have been deadly.
Vaught didn’t testify. On the second day of the trial, prosecutors performed an audio recording of Vaught’s interview with regulation enforcement officers through which she admitted to the drug error and mentioned she “in all probability simply killed a affected person.”
Throughout a separate continuing earlier than the Tennessee Board of Nursing final 12 months, Vaught testified that she allowed herself to change into “complacent” and “distracted” whereas utilizing the medicine cupboard and didn’t double-check which drug she had withdrawn regardless of a number of alternatives.
“I do know the rationale this affected person is not right here is due to me,” Vaught informed the nursing board, beginning to cry. “There will not ever be a day that goes by that I do not take into consideration what I did.”