Criminal trial begins for ex-Vanderbilt nurse who made fatal drug error

Jury selection began March 21 for the trial of RaDonda Leanne Vaught, a former nurse facing criminal charges over a fatal medication error, according to CBS affiliate WTVF

In 2019, Ms. Vaught was indicted on charges of reckless homicide and impaired adult abuse after inadvertently injecting a 75-year-old patient with a fatal medication two years earlier at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

Instead of giving the patient Versed, a common sedative, Ms. Vaught says she accidentally administered vecuronium bromide — a powerful paralyzer intended to keep patients still during surgery — after performing an override on the hospital's electronic medication cabinet. Ms. Vaught has acknowledged her mistake, but said other factors contributed to the error. In a 2021 medical disciplinary hearing, she said Vanderbilt encouraged nurses to override safeguards on medication cabinets because of a computer program, which she claims contributed to the error. 

Nurses nationwide have expressed concerns about what a conviction could mean for the profession, especially at a time when so many nurses are overwhelmed, exhausted and likely more prone to making accidental errors, according to Kaiser Health News.

"In response to a story like this one, there are two kinds of nurses," Janie Harvey Garner, a registered nurse in St. Louis who has been watching Ms. Vaught's case for years, told the publication. "You have the nurses who assume they would never make a mistake like that, and usually it's because they don't realize they could. And the second kind are the ones who know this could happen, any day, no matter how careful they are. This could be me. I could be RaDonda."

Vanderbilt fired Ms. Vaught in January 2018, and the Tennessee Board of Nursing stripped her of her license in 2021.

The Nashville district attorney's office and Ms. Vaught's lawyer did not respond to Kaiser Health News' request for comment, while Vanderbilt University Medical Center declined to comment. 

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