The Conviction of RaDonda Vaught
In December 2017, Charlene Murphey was preparing to be discharged from Vanderbilt hospital in Nashville following a brain injury that had improved. Before her discharge, Murphey would be scanned in equipment similar to an MRI. The sedative she was supposed to have before being scanned is called Versed. The nurse tasked with entering the prescription into the computerized system instead got vecuronium, a very strong paralyzer. It's a drug commonly used in the ICU for patients on a ventilator, but the mix-up was as simple as confusing two very different drugs that both start with the letter "V". To obtain this drug, the nurse had to click on a computerized "override" button, but having to override the computer guards was common practice. It was like clicking the "remind me tomorrow" button on a software update. Then... RaDonda received Vecuronium in its usual powder form. Versed (the correct drug) is a liquid. RaDonda mixed the powder into a liquid to dispense it. She told investigators that it seemed odd. RaDonda dispensed the drug through the patient's IV. While Charlene Murphy lay silently, the drug would have paralyzed Murphy's entire body while she was aware of it before she eventually went brain dead. The sedative that was supposed to reduce stress in a claustrophobic setting essentially killed the victim while trapped inside a body that couldn't communicate something was wrong before it was too late. The nurse RaDonda Vaught never denied or tried to diminish her responsibility in the tragedy. She told police at the scene that she "probably just killed a patient". She did not testify but has maintained that she allowed herself to be distracted on the job. This week RaDonda Vaught was convicted with 6 years in prison for neglect and an additional 1-2 years for negligent homicide. This ruling on a pre-pandemic case is arriving as nursing shortages, fatigue, and turnover rates are higher than ever. On one hand, the case is similar to a car accident that kills innocent victims but wasn't intentional. The prosecution stands on the grounds that RaDonda ignored so many safety warnings that it's basically manslaughter. On the other side, this sensational court case strikes a nerve with understaffed nurses who see it as setting a precedent that they can be prosecuted for a simple mistake. A reality of working in a hospital is that not all patients survive. Regardless of a lot of grey areas in this case, including the fact that a Vanderbilt neurologist testified that it can't be ruled out that the patient went brain dead because of the existing head injury this case is making nurses question if their job is safe in a post-covid world.