RaDonda Vaught’s recent trial and verdict gripped the nation. On Friday, the jury convicted her of criminally negligent homicide and also abuse of an impaired adult. This happened after a medical error contributed to the death of the patient back in 2017.
Criminally negligent charge of homicide is a level below charges of reckless homicide. The patient, Murphy, was 75 years old when she died after being injected with an incorrect drug.
What Really Happened?
Murphy, the 75-year-old patient was admitted to Vanderbilt for brain damage. Her condition was improving and she was soon to be discharged. She was prescribed a drug called Versed to help calm her.
Nurse Vaught was in charge of injecting Murphy with the medicine. Instead, she grabbed Vecuronium, a powerful paralyzer. The investigation showed that the nurse did not pay attention to details like how Versed comes in liquid form whereas vecuronium was in powder form. By the time the mistake was discovered, Murphy was already brain dead.
Assistant District Attorney Brittani Flat said that Vaught was not cautious when she pulled the wrong medication from the electronic dispensing cabinet. It required her to search for the medicine by name. And it was not an accident or mistake as it had been claimed by Vaught and her lawyer.
In his closing arguments, the attorney said ‘This wasn’t an accident or mistake as it’s been claimed. There were multiple chances for RaDonda Vaught to just pay attention’.
RaDonda Vaught’s Defense
Vaught never denied her responsibility and admitted her mistake last year in front of the Tennessee Board of Nursing. She stated that she had become ‘complacent’ and got distracted by a trainee while she was operating the computerized medical cabinet.
Although she accepted that it was her fault, she also said that the blame should not only be hers. Many are blaming the Vanderbilt University Hospital for the standardization of particular practices that prioritized efficiency over the safety of the patient.
Her lawyers alleged that ‘We are engaged in a pretty high-stakes game of musical chairs and blame-shifting. And when the music stopped abruptly, there was no chair for RaDonda Vaught.’ He further added that ‘Vanderbilt University Medical Center? They found a seat,’ alleging that the hospital was shifting the blame on a ‘disposable person’.
Vaught’s lawyers argued that although the loss of life was irreversible, it was not fair to take Vaught’s mistake and call it a criminal act of homicide.
Vanderbilt University Hospital’s Reply
Officials from the Vanderbilt University Hospital replied to the allegation. Terry Boston was the hospital pharmacy’s medication safety officer. He had testified that the hospital did in fact have technical issues with the medicinal cabinets back in 2017. However, the problems were resolved weeks before the Vaught incident happened.
Some Important Testimonies
One of the most interesting parts of the trial was Eli Zimmerman’s testimony. Eli is a Vanderbilt neurologist. In his testimony, he said that it was ‘in the realm of possibility’ that the patient died due to her brain injury.
Furthermore, Davidson County Chief Medical Examiner Feng Li also testified. His testimony stated that Murphy died from Vecuronium. However, it could not be determined how much of the drug was used. Li also said that a small dose may not have been lethal for the patient.
Vaught’s Concern For Murphy’s Family
After the decision was announced, Vaught told the reporters ‘I am just relieved that this portion of the process is over.’ She also added that ‘I hope that they (Murphey’s family) are also just as relieved to be moving away from this process that has been held up in the legal system for four and a half years. I hope that they are able to find peace with the resolution of this process.’
Peter Strianse, the defense attorney for Vaught said that ‘What struck me most about RaDonda Vaught’s interviews was not her honest recitation of the facts … but her genuine worry and concern about Charlene Murphey and concern for her family,’ He also added that she was merely a scapegoat and that she was not thinking about herself.
Back in July of last year, Vaught was stripped of her license by the Tennessee Board of Nursing.
Nurses React And Show Support To Vaught
While Murphy’s family sat on one side of the court’s gallery, nurses along with other medical professionals came to show support for Vaught.
The American Nurses Association released a statement on Wednesday stating that the trial would discourage nurses from reporting errors. And therefore it would set a worrying precedent. They also shared the concern that in the end, this would hamper the patient’s safety.
It also stated that there were more ‘effective and just mechanisms’ to address the Vaught situation rather than the criminal prosecution. Furthermore, the statement also stated that ‘This ruling will have a long-lasting negative impact on the profession’.
Janie Harvey Garner, who is the founder of the Facebook page Show Me Your Stethoscope with over 600,000 members said that ‘health care just changed forever’ after the verdict was announced. She also added that ‘You can no longer trust people to tell the truth because they will be incriminating themselves.’
The District Attorney went on to clarify that this was a case about a person’s actions and not about the nursing community. But there were many nurses present, some in scrubs, who disagreed. The deceased family was also present. When the judgment was read in their favor, they did not show any reaction except they hugged the lawyers before leaving the court.
What Will Happen Now
Vaught will be sentenced on May 13. She may face anywhere between 3 to 6 years in prison for neglect of the patient. This sentence would be based on the fact that she has no prior convictions. Her sentences will likely run concurrently.
While Murphy’s family feels that justice was finally served, the nurse’s community and even other healthcare practitioners feel it discourages them. They are worried that the healthcare professionals will hesitate to report errors as they may be stripped of their license and punished for it.