Tennessee Nurse Sentenced 3 Years Probation for Fatal Medication Error

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A Tennessee judge sentenced former nurse RaDonda Vaught to three years probation after she was convicted in March of a medication error that killed a patient. Some nurses have been vocal in their support of Vaught, who worked at Vanderbilt University Health Center in Nashville, as concerns have mounted in the industry over “the criminalization of medical mistakes,” KHN reported.

Vaught, 38, was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult in March for 75-year-old Charlene Murphey’s death nearly five years ago, according to KHN. Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Jennifer Smith imposed  Vaught’s sentence on Friday. Her record will be expunged contingent upon her completion of probation as Smith granted a judicial diversion in the case. While prosecutors did not argue the probation sentence, they did contend the diversion, the Associated Press noted.

The incident occurred on December 26, 2017, according to the outlet.

“Murphey was supposed to be given Versed to ease her anxiety before a PET scan. Instead, she was given the paralytic drug vecuronium, which caused her to be unable to breathe,” WTVF noted. According to the AP, Vaught reported the incident as soon as she realized what had happened.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Special Agent Ramona Smith took the stand Friday and “testified that she thought Vaught was forthright, but not remorseful during her interview with the TBI after Murphey’s death,” according to WTVF.

Vaught issued an apology during Friday’s sentencing.

“I will never be the same person. When Ms. Murphey died, a part of me died with her. I have replayed my mistakes over and over again,” she said per WTVF. “I have certainly fallen from grace, I have experienced anxiety, depression, remorse, sleepless nights.”

Smith acknowledged the sincerity of Vaught’s remorse, according to KHN. 

“Miss Vaught is well aware of the seriousness of the offense,” the judge said. “She credibly expressed remorse in this courtroom.” 

She also highlighted that the nurse had no criminal history prior to the case and that she would be permanently barred from practicing nursing.

Murphey’s family had mixed feelings regarding the nurse’s sentence as the victim’s son, Michael Murphey, emphasized that his mother was a forgiving individual who would not desire Vaught to be incarcerated, while the victim’s husband preferred prison time, the AP noted.

“My dad suffers every day from this,” Murphey said per KHN. “He goes out to the graveyard three to four times a week and just sits out there and cries.”

Healthcare workers were gathered outside of the Nashville courthouse in support of Vaught, who was looking at a maximum of eight years in prison. They sported purple shirts that read  “Seeking Justice for Nurses and Patients in a BROKEN system” and “#IAmRaDonda,” the Associated Press noted. When Smith imposed the sentence of probation and judicial diversion, they both cheered and cried.

One woman named Janie Reed made the trip from Memphis to Nashville for the protest. Reed, a nurse practitioner, expressed concerns that nurses may not report medication errors in the future.

“I usually don’t do things like this,” she told the Associated Press. “I’m just so passionate about it. Nurses are going to go to jail, and more people are going to die because they won’t report their errors.”

Vaught apologized to the Murphey family regarding the support she had garnered, adding that it furthered their anguish. 

“I’m sorry that this public outpouring of support for me has caused you to continue to live this over and over,” she said. “No one has forgotten about your loved one, no one has forgotten about Ms. Murphey. We’re all horribly, horribly sorry for what happened.”


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