Former nurse RaDonda Vaught was sentenced to three years’ supervised probation Friday in a Tennessee court.
Back on March 25, Ms. Vaught was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide stemming from the death of a patient at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2017.
The diversion of the sentence means Ms. Vaught can see the charges wiped from her record, provided she meets the terms of her probation.
The sentence garnered a considerable response from around the world of nursing.
The American Nurses Association, in conjunction with the Tennessee Nurses Association, offered the following:
“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.
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.”
Here is a summary of coverage from professional organizations, news outlets, and other opinions and reactions since the original verdict on March 25:
“Former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse RaDonda Vaught is being charged with reckless homicide and abuse of an impaired adult after mistakenly administering the wrong medication that killed an elderly patient in 2017.
ANA believes that the criminalization of medical errors could have a chilling effect on reporting and process improvement. The Code of Ethics for Nurses states that while ensuring that nurses are held accountable for individual practice, errors should be corrected or remediated, and disciplinary action taken only if warranted.
COVID-19 has already exhausted and overwhelmed the nursing workforce to a breaking point. Nurses are watching this case and are rightfully concerned that it will set a dangerous precedent. ANA cautions against accidental medical errors being tried in a court of law.
Health care is highly complex and ever-changing, resulting in a high risk and error-prone system. Organizational processes and structures must support a “just culture”, which recognizes that health care professionals can make mistakes and systems may fail. All nurses and other health care professionals must be treated fairly when errors occur. ANA supports a full and confidential peer review process in which errors can be examined and system improvements and corrective action plans can be established. Swift and appropriate action should and must always be taken as the situation warrants.
Transparent, just, and timely reporting mechanisms of medical errors without the fear of criminalization preserve safe patient care environments. ANA maintains that this tragic incident must serve as reminder that vigilance and open collaboration among regulators, administrators, and health care teams is critical at the patient and system level to continue to provide high-quality care.”