Former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse RaDonda Vaught will not serve jail time after making a medication error that resulted in the death of a patient.
She was sentenced to three years probation Friday for impaired adult abuse and criminally negligent homicide, both felonies that could have resulted in a three year jail sentence.
Vaught was a “nurse’s nurse,” said Elizabeth Kessinger, a Vanderbilt nurse who helped onboard Vaught and was called as a witness in the sentencing hearing, the type of nurse someone in the profession would choose to take care of them. Hundreds of nurses gathered at Public Square Park on Friday in support of Vaught.
The sentencing fell one day after the end of National Nurses Week. Many of the nurses in attendance came from outside of Nashville, some on their way back home from the national nurse’s march in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
Vaught, using an electronic medicine cabinet, overrode a function to mistakenly give patient Charlene Murphey a powerful sedative rather than an anti-anxiety medication, resulting in her death in December 2017. The case garnered national attention, and nurses with large social media followings, including Nurse Erica, Tina from the Good Nurse Bad Nurse podcast, Nurse Jessica and Taccara D. spoke at Public Square Park ahead of the proceedings.
Gov. Bill Lee confirmed that he would not grant clemency for Vaught, though an online petition calling for clemency garnered more than 200,000 signatures.
In the sentencing hearing, the prosecution brought up a perjury charge, in which she is accused of lying on a form for buying a gun, and played an emotionally charged media interview, saying that her attitude should be taken into account. The defense entered 40 character letters and heard from Vaught’s neighbor and fellow nurse, childhood friend and a former coworker.
“When Charlene Murphey died a part of me died with her,” Vaught said on the stand.
Murphey’s son and two daughters-in-law testified that they would not ask for jail time for Vaught. Murphey’s husband, however, said he would have liked to see her receive jail time.
Russell Dcunha, a travel nurse who attended nursing school at Western Kentucky University at the same time as Vaught, said understaffing played a part.
“It could happen to anybody, like it could happen to any one of us,” Dcunha said. “To happen to someone like her is unfortunate, because she is a genuine person. It could happen to me when I walk into work tomorrow, with our patient load. We work like 12, 13 [hours]. I've been there from 7 p.m. to 10 in the morning and not have a lunch break and maybe go pee once or twice.”
Attendees called for “just culture,” the ideology that errors are part of larger systemic issues in a workplace, and implementation of a staffing ratio in hospitals. Vaught was pulled from another unit to administer the medicine and she had a nurse shadowing her the day of the error.
Dana Vernon, chief nursing officer at Ascension Saint Thomas Behavioral Health Hospital, said she hopes the trial won't affect the nurses that report to her or prevent people from entering the profession.
“I'm just afraid that nurses won't come forward when they do make a mistake, to help us find solutions on how to fix the problem,” Vernon said. “If it's a medication dispensing issue, we need to be able to fix the problem with being able to put controls in so that nurses aren't ever put in this position.”