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May 25, 2022

RaDonda Vaught speaks publicly for the first time since her sentencing

Daily Briefing

    RaDonda Vaught, a former nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) who was convicted on felony charges for a fatal medical error, has spoken out for the first time since she was sentenced to three years of probation.

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    In 2017, Vaught withdrew a vial from an electronic medication cabinet and administered the drug to Charlene Murphey, a 75-year-old patient.

    Unfortunately, instead of grabbing Versed, a sedative to help calm Murphey before she underwent a scan, Vaught accidentally grabbed vecuronium, a powerful paralyzer that stopped the patient's breathing and left her brain dead before the error was discovered. Murphey ultimately died on Dec. 27, 2017.

    Following the fatal error, the Tennessee Board of Nursing last year revoked Vaught's RN license, effectively ending her nursing career. Vaught was also charged and ultimately found guilty of gross neglect of an impaired adult and negligent homicide. She faced up to eight years in prison.

    Ultimately, on May 13, Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Jennifer Smith sentenced Vaught to three years in prison, but granted her supervised probation, meaning Vaught will avoid prison time.

    "This offense occurred in a medical setting. It was not motivated by any intent to violate the law," Smith said. "She has no criminal record. She's been removed from the healthcare setting. She will never practice nursing again. The situation will never be repeated."

    Smith also said Vaught would receive a judicial diversion, meaning her conviction will be expunged from the records if she completes her probation.

    "Ms. Vaught is well aware of the seriousness of the offense," Smith said, adding that Vaught "credibly expressed remorse in this courtroom."

    "This was a terrible, terrible mistake, and there have been consequences to the defendant," Smith said.

    Vaught speaks out for the first time since her sentencing

    Last week, Vaught spoke publicly for the first time since her sentencing in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

    "I will never be the same person," Vaught told ABC News' Eva Pilgrim. "It's really hard to be happy about something without immediately feeling guilty. She could still be alive, with her family. Even with all the system errors, the nurse is the last to check."

    "The moment you realize you make a mistake with a drug like that, and then you see this patient's condition --- it was immediately really bad," Vaught said.

    During the trial, Vaught's attorneys argued that her mistake occurred largely because of "systemic errors" at VUMC that allow nurses to override safeguards. However, neither VUMC nor anyone else involved was held responsible for Murphey's death, ABC News reports.

    "So many things had to line up incorrectly for this error to have happened, and my actions were not alone in that," Vaught said. 

    Vaught admitted that she was distracted during the incident because she was training a new nurse. "Anytime you have additional responsibility, that responsibility can be distracting," Vaught told ABC News. "I allowed myself to split my focus into two different things at once."

    "I think the whole world feels like I was a scapegoat," Vaught said. "There's a fine line between blame and responsibility, and in health care, we don't blame. I'm responsible for what I failed to do. Vanderbilt is responsible for what they failed to do."

    Notably, Vaught's case sparked an outcry from nurses and medical professionals around the nation—many of whom have expressed worries over the likelihood of making similar mistakes under increasingly demanding working conditions. 

    "After everything nurses have been through the last two plus years, one thing after another-- now to be charged criminally and convicted, why would anybody want to be a nurse now?" said Erica Daniels, a nurse based in Las Vegas.

    Ultimately, Vaught said, "[i]t is heart-wrenching to know that Ms. Murphey and her family were so horrifically let down. That will overwhelm any good that I ever did in my career." 

    "They are the patient and the family that will live with me the most," she added. (Bean, Becker's Hospital Review, 5/23; Myers et al., Good Morning America, 5/21)

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