Former Tennessee nurse RaDonda Vaught found guilty of killing woman after accidentally injecting her with bad drug

A former Tennessee nurse has been convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the death of a patient who was accidentally given the wrong medication, a jury has heard. RaDonda Vaught, 37, was also convicted on Friday of gross negligence of an intoxicated adult in a case that has captured the attention of patient safety advocates and nursing organizations across the country.

Vaught injected the paralyzing drug vecuronium into Charlene Murphey, 75, instead of the sedative Versed on December 26, 2017. Vaught freely admitted to making several mistakes with the drug that day, but her attorney argued that the nurse n did not act outside. of the norm and systemic issues at Vanderbilt University Medical Center were at least partly responsible for the error.

Tennessee Error Nurses
RaDonda Vaught, a former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse charged in the death of a patient, listens to opening statements during her trial at the Justice AA Birch Building in Nashville, Tennessee on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

Stephanie Amador/AP

The jury found Vaught not guilty of reckless homicide. Criminally negligent homicide was a lesser charge included in the original charge.

As Vaught awaited the verdict on Friday morning, she was continuously approached by local nurses who had come to the courthouse to support her. Vaught was calm after the verdict was read, but several of the nurses who surrounded her in the hallway of the courthouse were in tears.

When asked after the verdict, Vaught said she was relieved to have a resolution after 4½ years and hopes Murphey’s family will be relieved as well.

“Ms. Murphey’s family is at the forefront of my thoughts every day,” she said. “You don’t do something that impacts a family like this, that impacts a life, and carry that burden with you.”

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Murphey had been admitted to the neurological intensive care unit on December 24, 2017, after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. Two days later, doctors trying to determine the cause of the bleeding ordered a PET scan to check for cancer. Murphey was claustrophobic and was prescribed Versed for his anxiety, according to reports. When Vaught couldn’t find Versed in a vending medicine cabinet, she used an override and accidentally grabbed vecuronium instead.

An expert witness for the state argued that Vaught violated the standard of care expected of nurses. In addition to taking the wrong medication, she failed to read the name of the medication, did not notice a red warning on the top of the medication, and did not stay with the patient to check for had an adverse effect, legal nurse consultant Donna said. Jones.

Leanna Craft, a nurse educator at the neuro-ICU unit where Vaught worked, testified that it was common for nurses in those days to bypass the system in order to obtain medication. The hospital had recently updated an electronic records system, which caused delays in retrieving medication from automatic medication dispensing cabinets. There was also no scanner in the imaging area for Vaught to scan the medicine against the patient’s ID bracelet.

Assistant District Attorney Chadwick Jackson told the jury in closing arguments, “RaDonda Vaught acted recklessly and Charlene Murphey died as a result. RaDonda Vaught owed a duty of care to Charlene Murphey and RaDonda Vaught neglected it. .. The immutable fact of this case is that Charlene Murphey died because RaDonda Vaught couldn’t pay attention to what she was doing.”

Vaught said she was concerned the verdict would cause other suppliers “to be wary of coming forward to tell the truth. I don’t think the conclusion to be drawn from this is not to be honest and truthful” .

Patient safety expert Bruce Lambert, in an interview ahead of the verdict, said it was extremely concerning that Vaught was being criminally prosecuted for medical error.

“This will not only prevent nurses and doctors from reporting medication errors, but will also encourage them to leave the profession,” said Lambert, director of the Center for Communication and Health at Northwestern University.

Prior to sentencing, Vaught said she honestly had no regrets about admitting her mistake. She felt she was a scapegoat after Vanderbilt was given a surprise inspection by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“Someone has to pay a price, and it’s really easy to say, ‘Leave it to her,'” she said. “Nurses see it. Doctors see it. X-ray techs see it.”

Prosecutors speaking to the verdict said it was not a precedent-setting case that would lead to further criminalization of medical errors.

“This is not a case against the nursing community,” Assistant District Attorney Chadwick Jackson said. “This is a case against an individual.”

Janie Harvey Garner, who founded the nurse advocacy organization Show Me Your Stethoscope, disagreed.

“What’s happened here is health care has completely changed,” Garner said in a phone interview. “Now when we tell the truth, we incriminate ourselves.”

Garner, who helped raise money for Vaught’s defense, said ordinary people don’t understand how difficult and stressful working as a nurse can be. She said mistakes are common and what happened to Vaught could have happened to anyone.

“A jury of his peers would all have been critical care nurses,” Garner said.

The sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 13. Vaught faces three to six years in prison for gross negligence and one to two years for criminally negligent homicide. Vaught was released on bail and remains free until sentenced. She said she hadn’t considered appealing.

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