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

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

Smith mentioned that the household of the affected person who died because of Vaught’s treatment mix-up suffered a “horrible loss” and “nothing that occurs right here at this time can ease that loss.”

“Miss Vaught is nicely conscious of the seriousness of the offense,” Smith mentioned. “She credibly expressed regret on this courtroom.”

The choose famous that Vaught had no felony file, has been faraway from the well being care setting, and can by no means apply nursing once more. The choose 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 Middle 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 demise 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 demise 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 each day from this,” Michael Murphey mentioned. “He goes out to the graveyard three to 4 instances 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 throughout the purview of state medical boards and lawsuits and are virtually by no means prosecuted in felony courtroom.

The Davidson County district lawyer’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 occupation. Prosecutors argued in trial that Vaught neglected 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 mustn’t represent a criminal offense.

In the course of the listening to on Friday, Vaught mentioned she was eternally modified by Murphey’s demise and was “open and trustworthy” 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’ve misplaced excess of 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 along 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 do not deserve this,” Vaught mentioned. “I hope it doesn’t come throughout as folks forgetting the one you love. … I believe we’re simply in the course of methods that do not perceive each other.”

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

Theresa Collins, a journey nurse from Georgia who carefully adopted the trial, mentioned she is going to now not use the function, 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 snug doing it anymore,” Collins mentioned. “Once you criminalize what well being care employees do, it adjustments 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 appreciable backlash on social media as nurses streamed the trial by way of 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 way of the evening 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 each 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 felony prosecution for medical errors and would pursue related payments “in each state.”

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

“She should not have been charged within the first place,” Vinsant mentioned. “I would like her to not serve jail time, in fact, however the sentence does not actually have an effect on the place we go from right 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 may 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 kind of 1,000, there are in all probability 10 extra who assist her however could not come.”

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

Kaiser Health NewsThis text was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Household Basis. Kaiser Well being Information, an editorially unbiased 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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