Ex-Vanderbilt nurse's trial could set dangerous precedent, ANA warns

The trial of RaDonda Leanne Vaught, a former nurse facing criminal charges over a fatal medication error, could have a "chilling effect" on medical error reporting and process improvement in healthcare, the American Nurses Association said in a March 23 statement.

Ms. Vaught was indicted on charges of reckless homicide and impaired adult abuse in 2019 after inadvertently injecting a 75-year-old patient with a fatal medication two years earlier at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. Her trial began March 21.

ANA said it cautions against accidental medical errors being tried in a court of law, especially at this moment in time.

"COVID-19 has already exhausted and overwhelmed the nursing workforce to a breaking point," ANA said. "Nurses are watching this case and are rightfully concerned that it will set a dangerous precedent."

Fear of criminalization could prevent "transparent, just and timely reporting" of medical errors, which is crucial to maintain safe patient care environments, the association said. Healthcare organizations' processes and structures must also support a "just culture" that recognizes the possibility of mistakes and system failures. 

"ANA maintains that this tragic incident must serve as [a] reminder that vigilance and open collaboration among regulators, administrators and healthcare teams is critical at the patient and system level to continue to provide high-quality care," the association concluded.

View the full statement here.

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