After a three-day trial that gripped nurses across the country, former nurse, 38 year old RaDonda Vaught, was convicted in Tennessee of two felonies, gross neglect of an impaired adult and negligent homicide, and is facing eight years in prison for a fatal medication mistake. She was scheduled to be sentenced on May 13.
She was arrested in 2019 in connection with the killing of Charlene Murphey, who died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in late December 2017. Murphey was prescribed a sedative, Versed, to calm her before being scanned in a large, MRI-like machine. Vaught was tasked to retrieve Versed from a computerized medication cabinet but instead grabbed a powerful paralyzer, vecuronium.
Vaught overlooked several warning signs as she withdrew the wrong drug – including that Versed is a liquid but vecuronium is a powder – and then injected Murphey and left her to be scanned. By the time the error was discovered, Murphey was brain-dead.
Court House News reports that she was sentenced to three years of probation Friday as hundreds of health care workers rallied outside the courthouse, warning that criminalizing such mistakes will lead to more deaths in hospitals.
A state judge imposed the sentence on RaDonda Vaught after she apologized to relatives of the victim, Charlene Murphey, and said she’ll be forever haunted by her mistake. Vaught was found guilty in March of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult after she accidentally administered the wrong medication.
Nashville Criminal Court Judge Jennifer Smith said Vaught would receive judicial diversion, a way for first-time offenders to have their charges dropped and their records expunged after successfully completing probation. Prosecutors had argued against diversion, although they were not opposed to probation.
The crowd of nurses outside protesting cheered, cried and hugged after hearing the sentence. The relief came after the health care workers spent hours in the sun and clung to every word of the judge’s lengthy sentencing explanation, some linked in a chain with hands locked.
The fact that Vaught, 38, faced any criminal penalties at all has become a rallying point for many nurses who were already fed up with poor working conditions exacerbated by the pandemic. The crowd outside listened to the hearing through loudspeakers and cheered when some of the victim’s relatives said they wouldn’t want jail time for Vaught.
In weighing whether to grant Vaught judicial diversion, Judge Smith cited Vaught’s remorse as well as her honesty about the medication error.
After Vaught was found guilty in March, health care workers began posting to social media that there were leaving bedside nursing for administrative positions, or even quitting the profession altogether. They said the risk of going to prison for a mistake has made nursing intolerable.
On Friday, Vaught’s supporters wore purple T-shirts reading “#IAmRaDonda” and “Seeking Justice for Nurses and Patients in a BROKEN system,” as they listened to speeches from other nurses and supporters. They also held a moment of silence to remember Charlene Murphey.
Vaught reported her error as soon as she realized what she had done wrong – injected the paralyzing drug vecuronium instead of the sedative Versed into 75-year-old Charlene Murphey on Dec. 26, 2017.
Vaught admitted making several errors that led to the fatal injection, but her defense attorney argued that systemic problems at Vanderbilt University Medical Center were at least partly to blame.