RaDonda Vaught reflects on criminal case

RaDonda Vaught shared new details about her criminal case and life since her conviction in a two-part podcast from "Nurses Uncorked" released Nov. 21.  

In March 2022, Ms. Vaught was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult for a fatal medication error she made in December 2017 after overriding an electronic medical cabinet as a nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. The error, in which vecuronium, a powerful paralyzer, was administered instead of the sedative Versed, led to the death of 75-year-old Charlene Murphey. 

"My gut instinct was that I was going to be found guilty," Ms. Vaught said of the trial. "I couldn't even make myself make eye contact with the jury. I don't think they really ever had an opportunity to hear from me to understand anything from the perspective other than what the prosecution, you know, displayed for them."

Ms. Vaught said she was mentally preparing to enter prison but ultimately received three years of supervised probation in May 2022. 

Her case garnered national attention, spurring a wider debate about healthcare error reporting and harm prevention efforts. The American Nurses Association warned that the conviction would set a dangerous precedent and discourage nurses from reporting medical errors, while the Institute for Healthcare Improvement said the case should serve as a wake-up call for health system leaders to improve harm prevention efforts.

Ms. Vaught — who immediately reported her own error and remained transparent throughout the process — said she recognizes the weight of her case and its precedence. 

"It is an important story. It's not just my story. There are a lot of characters: Charlene and her family play a leading role. Nursing and healthcare. Patients and the general public," she said. "Who doesn't know someone who works in healthcare or who will never be involved in being a patient in healthcare?"

"Mistakes are a part of life, period," she added. "Yes, there is a high expectation for us to meet our standards, but they are just standards of practice. Not standards of perfection."

Today, Ms. Vaught lives on a farm in Tennessee with her husband and maintains a relatively private life, though she said she's still often recognized in public. In the year and a half since her sentencing, she's also allowed space for healing. 

"I think time was the therapy I needed. Resolution of this criminal matter … all of the legal stuff hanging over my head and the weight of that — time and getting away from that was what I felt like I needed the most."

Listen to the full podcast here.

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