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Nurses protest Tennessee sentence for deadly medical mistake

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE (AP) – Nurses travelled from around the country to protest yesterday outside the courtroom where a former Tennessee nurse faced up to eight years in prison for mistakenly causing the death of a patient.

RaDonda Vaught was found guilty in March of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult after she accidentally administered the wrong medication.

The maximum sentence is unlikely given her lack of prior offenses. A presentencing report rated her risk of reoffending as “low”. Still, her conviction has become a rallying point for many nurses who were already fed up with poor working conditions exacerbated by the pandemic.

Some have left bedside nursing for administrative positions while others have left the profession altogether, saying the risk of going to prison for a mistake has made nursing intolerable.

The sentencing comes a day after International Nurses Day, and some nurses drove from a march for better working conditions in Washington DC on Thursday to the courthouse in Nashville, where they planned to gather in protest.

Protesters outside the White House. PHOTO: AP

“Everyone I talk to is furious about it,” said Janie Harvey Garner, a nurse who founded the advocacy group Show Me Your Stethoscope and helped raise money for Vaught’s defence.

“She shouldn’t have been able to practise nursing again. She should have been disciplined by the (nursing) board, but jail?”

Harvey, who was driving to the courthouse from Georgia, said it was “terrifying” to think she could be prosecuted for a mistake. She predicted that nurses will start trying to cover up their errors rather than report them. Vaught reported her error as soon as she realised what she had done wrong.

Vaught, 38, injected the paralysing drug vecuronium into 75-year-old Charlene Murphey instead of the sedative Versed on December 26, 2017. Vaught freely admitted to making several errors, but her defense attorney argued that systemic problems at Vanderbilt University Medical Center were at least partly to blame.