Nurse in Fatal Drug Mix-Up Hears Her Fate

RaDonda Vaught found guilty of negligent homicide, gross neglect in death of 75-year-old patient
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 22, 2022 11:37 AM CDT
Updated Mar 26, 2022 5:30 AM CDT
Nurse on Trial for Homicide After Mistake in Hospital
RaDonda Vaught, center, talks with a supporter after a 2019 court hearing in Nashville, Tenn.   (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Update: RaDonda Vaught has been found guilty in the death of an elderly patient after a fatal drug mistake. The Tennessean and NPR report that a jury in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday convicted the former nurse of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult, tied to the 2017 death of 75-year-old Charlene Murphey, to whom Vaught gave the wrong medication. "I am just relieved that this portion of the process is over," Vaught said after the verdict. "I hope that they [Murphey's family] are also just as relieved to be moving away from this process." Vaught could see one to two years behind bars for the homicide charge as a defendant with no prior convictions, and three to six years for the neglect charge. She's set to be sentenced May 13, with her sentences expected to run concurrently, a Nashville DA spokesperson says, per NPR. Our original story from Tuesday follows:

It is, as an essay in the American Journal of Nursing declared, "every nurse's nightmare." The reference is to the trial that got underway this week in Nashville regarding former nurse RaDonda Vaught. As the Gallatin News reports, the 38-year-old made a fatal mistake four years ago while working at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Vaught was supposed to give a 75-year-old patient a sedative called Versed, but she mistakenly gave her a powerful paralyzing drug called vecuronium bromide instead. (That they both begin with "ve" is a crucial point.) The female patient died, and Vaught told the Tennessee Board of Nursing last year that although she'd been distracted by a trainee, she accepted responsibility.

"I know the reason this patient is no longer here is because of me," she said, per NPR. "There won't ever be a day that goes by that I don't think about what I did." Vaught lost her nursing license, but now she faces bigger trouble. Prosecutors in Nashville want her held criminally responsible because she overlooked multiple automated warnings about the mistake as it unfolded. Vaught retrieved the drug from an electronic medication cabinet, and while she admitted her role in the mistake, she also faulted procedures in place at the hospital, per the Tennessean.

When she went to retrieve the Versed, Vaught typed "ve" into the dispensing cabinet's search function. When that didn't work, she triggered an override of the system's safeguards, got several options, and incorrectly grabbed the vecuronium, per NPR. In doing so, she missed pop-up warnings that it was a paralytic. Vaught maintains that Vanderbilt encouraged nurses to use such overrides of the system because it was notoriously buggy and slow, per the Tennessean. Now a jury—which includes a nurse at a memory care facility—will decide whether she's guilty of reckless homicide. The case is being closely watched in the nursing community, and WKRN reports that nurses from around the US are in Nashville to show their support to Vaught. (Read more nursing stories.)

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