Deadly mistake: Former nurse found guilty in patient’s death

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee jury found a former nurse guilty of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult after she accidentally injected a patient with the wrong drug.

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RaDonda Vaught was charged with the death of Charlene Murphey, 75, at Vanderbilt Medical Center. Murphey died in 2017 after she was injected with the incorrect drug, USA Today reported. The patient was supposed to receive a dose of Versed, which is a sedative. Instead, Vaught was accused of injecting Murphey with vecuronium, a paralytic which left her unable to breathe, USA Today reported.

Vaught faces three to six years in prison for the abuse charge and one to two years for negligent homicide, NPR reported. She has no prior convictions and is scheduled to be sentenced May 13.

Vaught has never denied the mistake, and The Tennessean reports she has taken responsibility for it. Speaking to the newspaper before hearing her guilty verdict Vaught said, “Knowing what I know now — even if the jury finds me guilty, even if Judge Smith decides that prison time is the appropriate sentencing for this and it’s the maximum amount of time — I have zero regrets about telling the truth.”

Tennessee’s nursing licensing board investigated Vaught immediately after the error was made, and did not recommend she lose her license or be suspended, The Tennessean reported. It was only a year after Murphey’s death that an anonymous tip and surprise inspection led to the criminal indictment, the newspaper reported.

Prosecutors argued Vaught consciously disregarded warnings when she took the wrong drug out to dispense, and pointed out that she had to search for the drug by name to dispense it, USA Today reported. During the case, Assistant District Attorney Chad Jackson compared Vaught to a drunk driver who killed a pedestrian, but said Vaught was “worse” because it was as if she were “driving with [her] eyes closed,” NPR reported.

Vaught’s attorney argued the mistake was just that, and not a conscious act of homicide, USA Today reported.

Some nurses groups have been concerned about the impact the case’s verdict could have on the medical community. The American Nurses Association released a statement after the guilty verdict was read that said, in part, “ANA believes that the criminalization of medical errors could have a chilling effect on reporting and process improvement. … 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.”

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