NASHVILLE, Tennessee. Radonda Vought, a former nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, will serve three years probation for negligent homicide and abuse related to a medication error that killed a patient in 2017.
A rare criminal prosecution of a medical worker has attracted nationwide attention. Nursing advocates say a guilty verdict will lead to fewer clinicians coming forward with their mistakes due to fear of criminal penalties.
Here faced up to eight years in prison after Tennessee jurors found her guilty of two felony offenses in March. Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk (D) charged Vought with negligent homicide in February 2019, but a jury found her guilty on lesser charges. Tennessee also revoked her nursing license after initially taking no action against her.
On the Friday, Davidson County Judge jennifer Smith published a three-year prison offer, but provided Vought controlled probation, which allows in former healthcare worker to avoid conclusion.
“This insult happened in a medical parameter. This is was No motivated on Any intention to violate in law,” Smith said. “She is It has No criminal write down. She is was remote from in healthcare parameter. She is we will never exercise nursing once more. situation we will never be repeats.”
Vought apologized to in family from Charlene murphy, in 75 year old patient who died when Vought controlled in wrong medicine. “She is May No longer be here, but she is is an very lot alive in my intelligence. Everyone day, she is recalls me from in effects from my actions”, Vought testified before Smith announced in offer.
Before Smith delivered her decision, witnesses representing in victim testified in service from mercy. “Knowing in way my Mum was, she is will not to want Any prison time. My Mum was a very forgiving Human,” said Michael murphy, Charlene son.
Charlene Murphy was admitted to the neurological intensive care unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center with a cerebral hemorrhage. Before PET, she was prescribed a sedative for nerves.
While taking the medicine, Voight hacked into an automatic dispenser without a doctor’s order or a pharmacist’s check, and mistakenly chose vecuronium, a neuromuscular drug that temporarily paralyzes the patient and requires mechanical ventilation to support the lungs.
According to an investigation by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Vought administered vecuronium without putting it on Murphy’s medical history and left. About 30 minutes later, Murphy was found unconscious with no pulse. She later suffered a cardiac arrest which left her brain dead. Murphy was taken off the ventilator the next day and died 10 minutes later.
Prosecutors argued that Voight ignored a system of safety measures put in place to protect patients from medical errors and abandoned standards of care by not monitoring Murphy after the drug was administered.
Voight acknowledged her mistakes and reported the mistake as soon as she realized it had happened. At trial, Vought’s lawyers argued that her actions did not justify a murder conviction and that the hospital was partially responsible.
The law enforcement officer did not agree with the testimony given at the hearing. “She felt that by telling the truth it would pass and that she should be rewarded for her honesty. Honesty is an amazing thing, but it does not remove responsibility. I don’t think she thinks she should be held responsible. She feels like someone else should be held accountable.” —Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Ramona Smith. said.
CMS found serious flaws in Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s response to this event. The Nashville hospital did not report the circumstances of Murphy’s death to the Tennessee Department of Health and the Davidson County Medical Examiner. Initially, death was declared due to natural causes.
CMS threatened to withhold the refund and forced Vanderbilt to develop a corrective action plan and go on probation. The answer included the addition of several new safeguards to medical dispenser cabinets and the complete removal of vecuronium from them. The medical center also settled out of court with the Murphy family for an undisclosed amount. The hospital was not prosecuted.
Medical professionals and patient safety groups rallied around Vaught during the trial, voicing concern that criminalizing bugs would lead to cover-ups and hinder progress in developing human error-tolerant systems. Many also fear that the decision to prosecute will force clinicians to quit their jobs entirely.
“Providing medical care is very difficult. Errors and system failures are inevitable. It is completely unrealistic to think otherwise,” the American Nurses Association said in a statement following its conviction in March. “The criminalization of medical errors is unnerving, and this verdict sets a dangerous precedent. There are more efficient and fair mechanisms in place to check for bugs, implement system improvements, and take corrective action.”
The American Hospital Association said at the time that the verdict “will have a chilling effect on safety culture in healthcare.”
“Criminal prosecution for unintentional acts is the wrong approach” – Robin Begley, AHA Chief Nurse, said in a Click release in March. “They prevent healthcare professionals from reporting their mistakes and complicate efforts to retain and attract more people to nursing and other healthcare professions that are already understaffed and overwhelmed by years of patient care during a pandemic.”
After the guilty verdict, Funk’s office released a statement attempting to allay fears of wider criminalization of doctors for medical errors.
“The jury’s conviction of Radonda Vought was not an indictment against the nursing profession or the medical community,” the statement said. “This case was, and always has been, a gross snub by Radonda Vought that led to the death of Charlene Murphy. It was not a “single” or “minute” mistake.”