Former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse RaDonda Vaught has been sentenced to three years of probation after a jury convicted her of criminally negligent homicide and impaired adult abuse for mistakenly administering the wrong medication that resulted in the death of a patient in 2017. The following statement is attributable to both the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the Tennessee Nurses Association (TNA):
“We are grateful to the judge for demonstrating leniency in the sentencing of Nurse Vaught. Unfortunately, medical errors can and do happen, even among skilled, well-meaning, and vigilant nurses and health care professionals. (story continues below)
After speaking with Vaught and her attorney, ANA sent a letter to the judge which would be submitted into evidence on Vaught’s behalf. In fact, leading up to the sentencing hearing, ANA was in communication with Vaught and her attorney to discuss the best ways for ANA to provide support to Vaught in the specific context of sentencing. Per those communications, we drafted a letter for submission to the court as evidence through her counsel. The letter expresses, from a professional and nursing perspective, legal reasons why we would humbly request leniency. We were compelled to take this action because we all see ourselves in Vaught. Nurses see themselves in Vaught; our peers and colleagues and health care professionals beyond nursing see themselves in Vaught.
Nurses at all levels and across all settings provide care in demanding work environments with challenges that predate the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider this: a typical nurse’s shift is fast-paced and high stakes, with constant patient turnover, inadequate staffing levels, varying patient acuity, exposure to infectious disease, and risk of work-related injury and violence. All of these factors impede the delivery of safe patient care, and nurses too often find themselves working under conditions that increase the likelihood of adverse outcomes from tragic mistakes.
Our hearts continue to go out to the loved ones of both Ms. Murphey and Nurse Vaught, all of whom are deeply affected by this tragedy and face a long road of healing. Leaders, regulators and administrators have a responsibility to nurses and patients to put in place and sustain organizational structures that support a just culture, which includes recognizing that mistakes happen and systems fail. Structures should include full and confidential peer review processes to examine errors, deploy system improvements and establish corrective action plans. The criminalization of medical errors will not preserve safe patient care environments.”