Nurse Faces 12 Years in Prison For Deadly Mistake—Should She?

Nurse Faces 12 Years in Prison For Deadly Mistake—Should She?

( – Before the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, nurses routinely worked overtime to provide the best care possible for their patients. Since then, they have worked on the front lines of the pandemic for long hours with limited staffing. Hospitals were crowded, protocols were imperfect, and exhausted nurses became susceptible to complacency as patients dealt with life and death situations.

In Nashville, Tennessee, and across the country, nursing groups are closely watching a case involving a nurse who accidentally provided a patient with the wrong medication, resulting in the patient’s death. Normally, medical boards handle accidents and disciplinary actions. In this case, prosecutors say the nurse ignored warnings before administering the drug and that this is not an ordinary case. Still, others say what the nurse did was tragic, but that she doesn’t deserve to face 12 years in prison.

Nurse Overrides System and Unintentionally Dispurses Lethal Drug

In December 2017, nurse RaDonda Vaught worked for one of the most prestigious hospitals in Tennessee when she made a catastrophic mistake for one patient. Charlene Murphy was a 75-year-old patient at Vanderbilt University Medical Center set to get a routine scan in an MRI-like machine. Vaught was supposed to give Murphy Versed, a sedative that calms people before they are placed in the large machine for a scan.

Instead, Vaught gave her patient Vecuronium – a drug designed to paralyze patients. In this instance, it stopped Murphy’s breathing. Before the error was discovered, the patient was already brain-dead. In 2021, the 38-year-old nurse admitted she made a critical mistake before the Tennessee Board of Nursing. She said she became distracted by a trainee while retrieving the drug from a computerized medical cabinet. At no time did Murphy seek to justify her mistake.

Ordinarily, the state licensing board would have revoked Murphy’s nurse license, and her career in nursing would likely have been over. Instead, prosecutors filed charges alleging reckless homicide and felony abuse of an impaired adult. If convicted, the nurse could spend 12 years in prison.

Nurses Across America Are Concerned About the Charges

Prosecutors acknowledge that Vaughn didn’t intend to harm her patient and said she was not impaired at the time of the mistake. Still, some are expressing concern that the case could set a new precedent for criminalizing medical errors, especially at a time when nurses are rare and in high demand, overworked, exhausted, and demoralized.

Regardless, prosecutors say that the nurse didn’t commit a common mistake. They allege Vaughn ignored numerous warnings and that her patient’s death should have been avoidable. The outcome of the case could have serious complications for nurses and their patients. On Monday, March 21, attorney’s agreed on 14 Nashville residents who will serve on the jury. The trial began on Tuesday.

Stay tuned.

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