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RaDonda Vaught, a Nurse, Was Convicted of Criminally Negligent Homicide in December 2017

Nurses around the country have been following the trial of RaDonda Vaught. She was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult for making a medication error that resulted in the death of a patient.

Her case has become a symbol of a problem, experts say. It’s an example of the policy problems that experts say lead to these kinds of errors.

What Was Vaught’s Job?

RaDonda Vaught was a nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. She made a medication error while treating a 75-year-old patient named Charlene Murphey in December 2017.

When Vaught tried to withdraw Versed from an automatic drug cabinet, she triggered an override and accidentally retrieved vecuronium instead of the sedative. She then injected the medication, causing Murphey to become brain-dead.

She was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult for her actions, and she faces up to eight years in prison. This is a rare case of a nurse facing a criminal charge for a medication error and it has caused an outcry among nurses across the country.

What Was Vaught’s Job Responsibilities?

DeRonda Vaught was a nurse working in the neurologic intensive care unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Her job responsibilities included helping with nursing needs across the unit, as well as orienting new employees to the facility.

As part of her responsibilities, Vaught administered Versed, a benzodiazepine medication used to help patients relax and prepare for brain scans. But Vaught’s mistake led to the death of Murphey, a patient with brain injuries who was undergoing a PET scan.

A jury found Vaught guilty last month of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult in Murphey’s death. The conviction sets a troubling precedent, according to nurses and healthcare professionals. They worry it will disincentivize healthcare practitioners from reporting medical errors and deter people from entering the profession.

What Was Vaught’s Job Description?

In December 2017, Vaught was tasked with retrieving Versed from a computerized medication cabinet for her 75-year-old patient Charlene Murphey. But instead of returning the correct drug, Vaught pulled vecuronium, a paralytic medication that landed Murphey in a medically-induced coma and ultimately killed her.

In March, a jury found Vaught guilty of gross neglect of an impaired adult and negligent homicide. In addition, she was acquitted of reckless homicide.

The trial captivated nurses and healthcare professionals across the country, who argued that a conviction and possible jail time for a mistake made on the job was unfair. They also worried that the trial would set a bad precedent for the coronavirus pandemic that leaves countless nurses exhausted, demoralized and more likely to make mistakes in their daily work.

On Friday, a Davidson County judge sentenced Vaught to three years of supervised probation and judicial diversion, meaning that her conviction could be dismissed if she meets the terms of her probation. News4 Nashville reported that hundreds of nurses, patients and family members traveled to the Nashville courthouse to show their support.

What Was Vaught’s Job Tasks?

Vaught was working in the hospital’s Neuro ICU on December 26, 2017, when 75-year-old Charlene Murphey was sent for a PET scan. She was suffering from a brain injury, and needed to be sedated before the imaging.

However, Vaught overrode Vanderbilt’s automated medication dispensing system and withdrew the wrong sedative. Instead, she injected Murphey with the powerful paralytic drug vecuronium, which caused her to die of respiratory failure.

The case was a surprise and has gripped health care professionals, with some nurses fearing that Vaught’s prosecution could discourage reporting errors for fear of criminalization.

In a statement, patient safety expert Bruce Lambert said Vaught’s trial “is extremely concerning.” But other experts say it’s unlikely to have an outsized effect on the way hospitals and health care facilities handle medical mistakes. Rather, it’s likely to make administrators more aware of the importance of accurate warnings. That’s why nurses and other health care workers should report medication errors, he said.

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