Nurse Arrested: RaDonda Vaught Timeline, Charges, Trial, and Aftermath

by | Apr 1, 2022 | Podcasts, Nurse Life | 20 comments

The RaDonda Vaught trial has been a major issue for the nursing community. Many details of this case have not made headlines, so I wanted to do a deep dive into what actually happened, explain the trial, and discuss what I think this means for our profession. In this post, I’ll outline the entire RaDonda Vaught timeline, explain the charges, and how we can protect ourselves as nurses.

The facts listed below were cited from various sources, including RaDonda’s interview with investigators and discovery from the Nashville DA, the entire complaint from the TN Board of Health, the letters to Vanderbilt and RaDonda from the TN Board of Health, CMS documentation, legal analyses, and various news articles. They are all cited after this article.

I also recorded this information for the FreshRN Podcast. You can listen below.

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Detailed RaDonda Vaught Timeline

Important Background Details

  • RaDonda Vaught was a registered nurse in the Neuro ICU and Step Down at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, TN, an acute care hospital with over 1,000 beds.
  • She had been a registered nurse for approximately two years at this time.
  • During the day in question, she was functioning as a “help-all nurse”
  • According to RaDonda:
    • They were not understaffed
    • She was comfortable in her role as a help-all nurse
    • She was comfortable having preceptee with her
    • She was familiar with her equipment
    • She was not overtired

December 2017

December 2017

75-year-old Charlene Murphey is admitted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for a subdural hematoma

December 26, 2017

Ms. Murphey was previously a neuro ICU patient, but was progressing well and downgraded to “step-down status”. She had a PET scan ordered. Because the patient was stable, she was able to be transferred down to the Radiology department without a nurse or on a monitor.

Important note ➡️ For most hospitals, ICU-level patients are required to have a nurse with them as well as be on a transfer monitor when leaving the ICU.

  • The patient was in the Radiology department and anxious about being in the scanner for a long period. The PET scan tech called the primary nurse (not RaDonda), who received an order for 1mg Versed from the physician. The patient’s primary nurse asked RaDonda to go to the Radiology department and give the medication.
    • It is unclear if the physician thought the patient was being monitored or assumed the patient would be monitored after being given a dose of Versed.
  • The order for Versed was entered at 2:47 pm, and the pharmacy verified it at 2:49 pm.
  • At 2:59 p.m., RaDonda went to remove the medication from the medication dispensing cabinet. She typed in “VE” under the patient’s profile, but it did not come up.  
  • Then, she clicked the override function to access all medications in the cabinet.
    • This was common practice in this hospital, however in RaDonda’s interview with investigators stated that she should have called pharmacy to ask why the order did not populate, as this was not an emergency.
  • She again searched “VE,” and many meds came up. She selected the first one. She thought it was Versed, but what she selected was Vecuronium. This is a paralytic, often used during emergencies and only when a patient has a breathing tube/ETT, as paralytics make it so the patient cannot breathe.
  • At least three screens on the med dispensing cabinet said ⚠️ WARNING PARALYZING AGENT ⚠️. One of these screens had a yellow alert banner. She had to provide a reason for using the override function and indicate how many vials she removed.
  • ⚡️ Fast Fact on Versed ➡️ The sedative she intended to remove, Versed, is in liquid form. Vecuronim, on the other hand, is in powder form, as it is not stable for very long in liquid form. To give Vecuronium, the nurse has to reconstitute it (mix it with saline) before injecting it into an IV.
    • RaDonda told investigators that it did strike her as odd that she had to reconstitute Versed since she hadn’t done that when giving it before
  • After pulling the med, she immediately looked at the back of vial (not the front or top where warning labels are) to see the instructions on how to give it. She gathered supplies to administer it, and then headed to Radiology with the orientee.
  • Upon arriving at Radiology, she found the patient, checked her arm band, and gave the medication to the patient in her IV. She immediately left to return to the neuro ICU.
  • The patient was not on any monitoring or observed in any capacity after this med was given. After receiving the med, the patient could not move, notify anyone, or breathe independently.
  • After approximately 30 minutes, she was found by unresponsive Radiology staff. They initiated CPR and called a code. They brought her back up to the neuro ICU. She was resuscitated.
  • The error was noted at this time. RaDonda immediately admitted what happened and has never denied accountability.

December 27, 2017

  • Ms. Murphey was placed on a ventilator and given proper ICU care. It was noted that she suffered an anoxic brain injury.
  • She was removed from life support with family by her side and passed around 1:00 am.
  • Later in the afternoon on Dec. 27th, two neurologists reported her death to the Davidson County Medical Examiner without mentioning the medication error, deeming the death natural due to a brain bleed. It appears that the ME did not investigate the death.

Early 2018

  • On January 3, 2018, RaDonda was fired from the hospital.
  • Vanderbilt does not report the fatal medication error to the state or federal officials, which is legally required.
  • In early 2018, Vanderbilt negotiated an out-of-court settlement with their family, requiring them not to discuss it publicly. This is often done with hospitals in malpractice situations to prevent negative publicity and a lengthy and expensive trial.
  • Around May 2018, Vaught began to work as a throughput coordinator at a different hospital system in Nashville. She still has her nursing license at this time.

Fall 2018

  • In Oct 2018, an anonymous tipster alerted federal and state officials to the unreported error. You can read that report here. (It is very short.)
  • The Tennessee Department of Health, responsible for licensing and investigating medical professionals, decided not to pursue disciplinary action against Vaught. In a letter to Vanderbilt, the agency’s investigations director says Vaught’s case “did not constitute a violation of the statutes and/or rules governing the profession.” Vaught also receives a letter saying, “This matter did not merit further action.”
  • In response to this anonymous tip, CMS conducts a surprise investigation at VanderbiltCMS states that Vanderbilt must prove they’re taking actions to prevent a similar error or face suspension of CMS reimbursement.
    • Vanderbilt responds with a plan that appeases CMS:
      • Changed policy so that critically ill patients must be monitored during transport
      • Changed policy so if getting meds that cause respiratory depression, they have to be monitored
      • Changed High Alert med policy to reflect monitoring necessary when high alert meds are given
      • Changed Med Admin policy to require more documentation, monitoring
      • They discussed their moderate sedation policy – Versed is considered moderate sedation. Apparently, their policy already required that anyone getting moderate sedation needed to be monitored and observed.
      • Had some additional updates like chart reviews to check in that new update were adhered to, workgroup created to look at the paralyzing agents override med list, no longer able to pull paralyzing agents by drug name – must uses PARALYZING AGENT, adding a pop-up warning, requiring 2 nurse sign-off to give paralyzing agents during start, change of container, and handoff
      • Updated scope of help all nurse
      • Update reporting requirements to state, medical examiner

2019

  • In Feb 2019, the case became public when she was arrested on a criminal indictment for her alleged role in the death.
    • She’s charged with reckless homicide and impaired adult abuse.
    • Around this time, news media interviewed the patient’s family, who stated they would forgive Vaught for the error.
  • Vanderbilt executives discussed the error in a TN Board of Licensing Healthcare Facilities meeting. The CEO admits it wasn’t reported to regulators, and their responses were “too limited.” They also confirm the settlement with the family. The board takes no action against Vanderbilt.
  • Later in Feb 2019, she pleads not guilty. Prosecutors make details of the case public, stating she made 10 separate errors before injecting the drug.
    • 1. Failed to contact pharmacy before overriding (non-emergent/not STAT)
    • 2. Pop-up on Accudose when pulling the med requiring you to select a reason for override, and pop- up also clearly states PARALYZING AGENT – these were disregarded
    • 3. After this, screen returns to selected med name + PARALYZING AGENT on the screen – this was disregarded
    • 4. User is then asked to select quantity, on top of the screen says PARALYZING AGENT + yellow caution sign that says ALERT – this was disregarded
    • 5. Didn’t notice powder vs. liquid
    • 6. Had to read instructions on vial but ignored where it said the name of the med
    • 7. Had to reconstitute; which is not normal for Versed
    • 8. Had to look directly at the red cap that says PARALYZING AGENT when drawing it up
    • 9. She knew the PET scan staff could not administer the med or monitor after
    • 10. She injected and immediately left her alone in the waiting room on the stretcher; this violated their mandated observation protocol
  • After she is arrested and indicted, the TN Dept of Health decides to reverse its prior decision not to discipline her, but does not provide details on why completely changing their stance when the facts of the situation itself have not changed.
    • The TN Dept of Health charges RaDonda with:
      • Unprofessional conduct
      • Abandoning or neglecting a patient that required care
      • Failing to maintain an accurate patient record
  • RaDonda faces two legal proceedings: A criminal trial and a professional hearing. There is some legal fighting about which goes first. TN Health Dept attorneys state there shouldn’t be a delay in the discipline hearing until after the criminal trial because she is a threat to the public.
    • This is odd because previously, they stated that no action was necessary.
    • Her professional discipline hearing regarding her nursing license will go first, then the criminal trial will take place.

2020

Much of 2019 was spent preparing for a 2020 trial, however the pandemic hit and many trials were pushed back and faced significant delays. Vaught’s trial is pushed back to 2021.

2021

  • Her discipline hearing began in July 2021. She admits fault, but her attorneys also describe the flawed Vanderbilt procedures.
  • On July 23, 2021, her nursing license was revoked. The board appears sympathetic but does not overlook the errors.

2022

  • On March 21, 2022, her criminal trial begins.
  • On March 25, 2022 after only a few hours of deliberation, the jury found Vaught guilty of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult. (More details about her specific charges later in this post.)
  • On May 13, 2022, Vaught was sentenced to three years of probation. If this is completed, she has the option to apply for it to be removed from her records at that time.

Let’s discuss some legal implications of this incredible complex case. This is a landmark case, as it is one of the few times a medical professional was charged and convicted for a medical error.

Other Medical Professionals Who Faced Criminal Prosecution

Medical professionals can face criminal prosecution for medical errors under certain circumstances, especially if their actions constitute gross negligence or recklessness. Here are some notable examples:

  1. Dr. Conrad Murray – Dr. Murray was the personal physician of the pop star Michael Jackson. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2011 for administering the powerful anesthetic propofol, which led to Jackson’s death in 2009. The court found Murray’s treatment to be grossly negligent, citing the inappropriate use of propofol outside hospital settings without proper monitoring equipment.
  2. Dr. Jayant Patel – An Indian-born surgeon who worked in Australia and the United States, Dr. Patel was dubbed “Dr. Death” by the media for his involvement in numerous surgical errors. In Australia, he was found guilty in 2010 of three counts of manslaughter and one count of grievous bodily harm due to his negligent surgical practices at Bundaberg Base Hospital. Although some convictions were later quashed, the case raised serious questions about the oversight of medical practitioners.
  3. Dr. Paolo Macchiarini – A renowned surgeon specializing in regenerative medicine, Dr. Macchiarini faced allegations of misconduct and criminal charges related to his pioneering trachea transplants. Several of his patients died following the experimental surgeries. Investigations questioned the ethics of his research and the informed consent of the patients, leading to his trial in Sweden for assault (allegedly causing bodily harm to patients during experimental procedures).
  4. Nurse Lucy Letby – In the United Kingdom, Nurse Letby was charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder of infants in her care at the Countess of Chester Hospital’s neonatal unit between June 2015 and June 2016. The case involving the alleged poisoning and deliberate harm of newborns has drawn significant media attention to the risks of criminal behavior in healthcare settings.
  5. Nurse Julie Thao—In 2006, in Wisconsin, Nurse Thao (a 16-year veteran nurse) worked in an understaffed labor and delivery unit. One of her patients was a 16-year-old birthing mother who had an epidural and IV antibiotics ordered. Thao inadvertently mixed up the two and did not scan the bag before administration. She attached the epidural medication to the patient’s IV pump. This caused the patient to have seizures, code, and ultimately die quickly from the error. Her baby boy was delivered via emergent C-section and survived. The Wisconsin Attorney General filed charges of criminal negligence, a felony with a possible sentence of up to six years in prison. She pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors for obtaining and dispensing a prescription drug without a prescription. In exchange, they dropped the felony charge. She served three years of probation and had her license suspended for nine months. You can read the ruling from the Wisconsin Board of Nursing here.

These examples show that while medical professionals often work with the intention of healing, significant errors or misconduct can lead to criminal charges. These cases are generally exceptional and involve actions far beyond simple mistakes or standard medical malpractice.

Why They Chose to Charge Her Specifically

So, why did they choose to charge her?

In the US, we have something called prosecutorial discretion. This means it’s up to the District Attorney (DA) to decide when and if to file charges against people.

Even if there is an airtight case, the DA could choose not to pursue them. For example, the first prosecutors in the Jussie Smollet and Ahmayd Arbery cases both decided not to pursue charges, even though later down the line charges were filed and they both secured convictions. While Chris Rock has stated he won’t file charges against Will Smith for assaulting him on stage during a nationally televised event, the DA could choose to pursue charges anyway. (This likely will not happen, but is simply an example.)

Prosecutors choose what charges to bring, and a lot can sway their decision-making.

Policies and political ambition are very influential. So, for example, they may choose to pursue all charges on all shoplifting cases no matter how frivolous in an attempt to garner support from the business community.  Or, a policy could be in place to charge all drug offenses, no matter how minor.

Unfortunately, our judicial system is extremely inconsistent as well. For example, in New Orleans, there was a case recently in which four teenagers car-jacked an elderly woman and dragged her to her death. One of the teens was even previously arrested for carjacking in the past. But the DA chose not to pursue charges in the teenager’s previous arrest because the family was against it.

Nashville’s District Attorney is named Glen Funk, who ultimately made the call to pursue charges against RaDonda. He has stated that Vaught ignored so many basic safety checks that it made her behavior reckless enough to justify criminal charges.

RaDonda Vaught’s Criminal Charges Explained

Now, let’s talk about RaDonda’s charges.

She was convicted of:

  • Gross neglect of an impaired adult – a 3–6-year sentence
  • Negligent homicide – a 1-2-year sentence

She was acquitted of reckless homicide.

So, what are the differences between negligent homicide and reckless homicide?

Negligent homicide is a death caused by criminally negligent behavior, which means two criteria must be met: Someone must have died as a result and died due to this negligence which creates an unjustifiable risk. In this situation, the individual is oblivious to the consequences of their actions. Clearly, this is very subjective.

Examples of this include ➡️ A child left in a hot car, waiting too long to call 911 or an inattentive babysitter.

Reckless homicide is more serious. With reckless homicide, the person is aware of the risk created by their conduct and chose to disregard it … it’s a gross deviation from the standard. They are aware of the consequences but proceed anyway.

Examples of this include ➡️ Drinking while intoxicated and causing a fatal car accident, dropping objects from the top of a tall building onto a busy street below.

The Nashville DA has been quoted in various news outlets stating that RaDonda’s disregard for all safety measures and basic nursing safety checks constituted reckless behavior.

She was originally charged with: Reckless homicide and impaired adult abuse. Here is an explanation, by state, of the legal definitions of elder adult abuse.

An individual can be convicted of the lesser charge of criminal negligence because it’s included under reckless homicide. The jury only deliberated for a matter of hours, which seems to clue us in on how strongly they felt about it, but convicting her of the lesser charge feels kind of like maybe they were trying to find some middle ground.

My Thoughts on the RaDonda Vaught Trial as a Nurse

With great risk comes great responsibility, and we do so many risky things each day. And in the absence of diligence, the opportunity for harm is profound.

I do not think jail time is appropriate for this situation, but I do think her not being able to function as a nurse would be, along with other things like probation or a fine. I personally believe that justice would have looked like her getting disciplinary action from the board immediately, as well as the hospital itself, and it stops there.

However, I am not surprised this ended in a conviction. The prosecution likely had very little trouble proving beyond a reasonable doubt that RaDonda didn’t take the precautions necessary to prevent this from happening that deviated severely from the normal standard of care. This is what is asked of the jury when they’re sent to deliberate.

While Vanderbilt certainly has responsibility, Vanderbilt was not on trial. She was – and there was plenty of evidence to demonstrate that she was guilty of committing those acts. (And in my opinion, Vanderbilt should face their own criminal trial.)

While as a nurse I wish it was not true that prosecutors proved this beyond a reasonable doubt, it would be disingenuous to say otherwise, as uncomfortable as admitting that might be. However, I feel a professional and ethical obligation to be honest about that.   

Given this, however, if RaDonda is guilty – shouldn’t Vanderbilt be held accountable for failing to report this death to state and federal regulators? If her actions were criminal, were they not culpable in covering it up? And what about the Tennessee Department of Health, who knew the facts of the case and chose not to pursue any discipline at all originally?

Criminal charges set an unnerving precedent for the profession, as people likely will be less honest about the mistakes they made.  Our nursing community is desperate for justice after being treated as disposable throughout the pandemic, so this hits pretty hard. Many have given all they can to their hospitals and patients, often way too much, far skewing what should be a mutually beneficial business partnership.

Nurses are often are pressured into shortcuts to meet expectations, and we often comply. Overriding medications routinely, increasing expectations but no additional support, time, or relief from other responsibility … expected to be safe, but not allocated enough time to do things safely …. We assume that if a hospital says something is okay that it must be.

We don’t know if they’re telling us that something is okay, even if it’s less than ideal, and when we need to push back to advocate for ourselves and protect our own license. No one will do that for us.

Further, I know many nurses who have had very unsafe patient assignments before, and employers who willingly put staff at risk just so they don’t have to mess up productivity, stay under budget, or avoid making some noise with the administration to advocate for a better and safer long-term solution. But if we have some street-smarts in how we deal with our employer when asked to do things that make your nurse alarm bells go off, that is empowering.

Could This Happen to Any Nurse?

Simultaneously, I don’t want us to be so consumed with the injustice of the criminal charges that we don’t stop and pause to reflect on how serious these errors were.

I do say this with care and respect, much like I would to a fellow player on a sports team. If my teammate were slacking or putting other teammates at risk by pushing, shoving, or doing dangerous things in the weight room that could cause serious bodily harm – with respect for that individual, and the team as a whole, it is my duty to call them out and hold them to a higher standard. This is for the protection of the entire team and the individuals themselves. This is professional accountability and ownership, and that is part of our Code of Ethics as nurses.

When she was initially indicted in February of 2019, I looked at the CMS documents closely, along with some other veteran nurses I respect. We came to the same conclusions:

“She didn’t even look at the vial at any point and read/comprehend it? … Even if she gave Versed correctly, she gave 1 mg IV to the patient and left her alone on a stretcher with zero monitoring … for 30 minutes? This was an ICU patient with no monitoring? … She reconstituted the med? These are egregious errors … This isn’t forgetting to cut a pill in half, programming a pump incorrectly, or missing an antibiotic dose … There were so many steps she skipped …. “

When you read the anonymous CMS complaint, it reads as if an experienced healthcare professional with intimate knowledge of the situation wrote it. Part of me wonders if someone involved in the situation reported it to officials because they knew neither Vanderbilt nor Vaught were held accountable, and she was continuing to work as a nurse. If I knew the details of what happened, I would struggle ethically to see no professional accountability outside of losing their job occur after such a severe error.

Further, I realize people are saying RaDonda could have been any of us, but when you get into the details of the case… I don’t believe just any nurse would do this. I’ve worked with many nurses over the past 12 years and can’t think of one who would deviate this far from the minimum acceptable safety standard.

Therefore, I believe we can protest against criminal charges while clearly stating that the way this nurse was practicing is far below the minimum acceptable safety standard of care for our profession. I genuinely believe a reasonable nurse would not make this error.

Per her report (while she did not have legal representation at the time), Vaught was not overworked, understaffed, or in an emergency.

Yet, she overrode the med, ignored three pop-ups that said PARALYZING AGENT, reconstituted the med without questioning why it was in powder form, never consciously looked at the front of the vial to confirm what she was giving, didn’t notice PARALYZING AGENT written on both the cap and front of the vial, injected the med to a critically ill patient without scanning or thinking to double-check what she was doing when she was without a scanner, and left the patient alone without any form of monitoring or observation.

Practical Clinical Considerations to Your Risk For Fatal Errors

My encouragement to nurses is: ➡️ Firm up your boundaries and assertiveness in unsafe environments. Mentally evaluate the culture of your unit and if it’s safe or dangerous. Be unapologetic about hazardous practices, even if they are normal, and navigate them tactfully and professionally.

Where you believe change is necessary, attend Professional Governance meetings, or meet with stakeholders like directors or your CNO to professionally describe the issue along with a proposed solution. If a policy change sounded good on paper but isn’t translating in the unit into something that’s safe, it’s our professional obligation to communicate that to leadership.

Be diligent as you give meds, especially in high-risk situations. If you are unable to scan a med for whatever reason, don’t skip all other safety steps. Remember, it’s physically impossible to be completely focused during your entire shift. But, if you can save that laser-focus for during care for when you’re completing these higher-risk tasks, that will increase accuracy without creating additional mental fatigue. Treating all tasks as equally serious/important actually makes those that truly are blend into the background.

Be purposeful with your attention. Be protective of your mental space when you’re completing important tasks. You may need to command some space, and that’s okay. People don’t take safety measures personally.  

Don’t answer your ringing phone while giving meds… tell the patient to hold on while you’re programming a pump or reviewing their meds in their chart …

These are all reasonable safety measures and the cornerstone of your professional practice. If hospitals just needed someone to push meds without thinking, they wouldn’t need professional nurses who are supposed to analyze what they’re doing and why critically. You’re not a task master; you’re a professional nurse who must think critically through situations.   

If you’re giving meds to patients without consciously looking at them once, and regularly skip safety steps, then you should not be working with patients.

What’s crucial during a really scary situation like this is to recognize what you can and can’t control.

  • You can control your attention and focus on your tasks
  • You can make people wait/be uncomfortable while you do safety checks
  • You can notify leadership of safety issues
  • You can participate in Professional Governance to advocate for yourself and your team

You can’t prevent all errors ever. We can’t control the district attorney’s political aspirations. We can’t control our hospital’s administrators. We must surrender control in these areas, and emotionally process the uncomfortable uncertainty that surrounds them. I believe the practice of self-compassion is especially beneficial here.

We can make opinions heard on criminal charges and work with professional organizations to have a more united front … while also trying to uphold and increase our standards as professional nurses.

I don’t want the message to continue to be that we’re at the mercy of our hospital and the justice department with no autonomy over our future. Rather, we are educated professionals who have a duty to be informed about what we can do to protect ourselves and our patients and how we can mitigate risk as much as possible while still enjoying our careers.

Nursing Professional Liability Insurance

It is important to have your own professional liability insurance. This is separate from your hospital’s coverage (more on that soon).

There is professional liability insurance for nurses, but it is not all created equally. You want to ensure whatever coverage you purchase includes professional licensing defense.

So, what’s a professional licensing defense for nurses in terms of insurance?

Essentially, this would cover the cost of legal representation (a lawyer) if you find yourself under disciplinary action by the board of nursing in your state. Traditional nursing liability insurance may cover things like legal fees, defense costs, settlements, and loss of income if having to be deposed or attending a trial. But often these policies do not cover legal representation in front of your board of nursing.

When Nursing Professional Liability Insurance is Necessary

Let’s say a patient sued you for malpractice. Maybe you committed a medical error by programming a pump incorrectly. The patient’s family sues you. You would need legal representation for this.  

Let’s say that medication error also gets reported to your state board of nursing. The board decides to have a disciplinary hearing about you and your license. You would also need legal representation for this situation, ideally from lawyers experienced in dealing with departments of professional regulation. However, not all liability insurance for nurses covers professional licensing defense.

While many of us think we’d never get disciplined/we’re too careful to end up in front of a professional disciplinary committee, here are some of the most common reasons for complaints against nurses (according to this law firm’s website):

  • Unprofessional conduct: Includes falsifying patient records or documents. Essentially, actions that can deceive or defraud the public fall into this category.
  • Criminal convictions. While not common, it is still possible. Most felonies and misdemeanors fall into this category.
  • Unsafe practices. If you provide care that is reckless or below the accepted standard of care
  • Inappropriate use of substances. You may find yourself working impaired, diverting drugs, or the subject of an investigation.
  • Unethical practices include harassment, discrimination, inappropriate sexual relationships with patients, breaching confidentiality, and more.

You may also need legal representation if your application to the Board of Nursing for a nursing license is denied. If you’re ever in front of the Board of Nursing in a disciplinary capacity, it is wise to have legal representation—even if you don’t think you have anything to hide.

Remember, anyone can file a complaint, and they must investigate all complaints.

I talked about professional liability insurance in nursing with a nurse attorney, Lorie Brown. You can listen to that episode below.

Where to Get Nursing Professional Liability Insurance

NSO is highly recommended by many nurses, nurse attorneys, and others.

Full disclosure: They partner with the American Association of Nurse Attorneys, an organization Lorie is a member of. Granted, they are partners with many professional nursing organizations as well. However, she is a big proponent of this insurance policy because it carries a professional licensing defense.

If you have homeowners’ or car insurance, that company may offer professional liability insurance policies. However, ensure that they also cover professional licensing defense before purchasing.  

Lorie recommends searching online for your state + “state department of insurance carriers for nursing malpractice”. So, for example, “New York State Department of Insurance carriers for nursing malpractice”. Just make sure you get one that has a professional licensing defense included!

Your Hospital’s Insurance Is Not Enough

Some hospitals tell nurses not to get their own insurance, saying they have insurance policies that cover their employees.

However, as Lorie discusses in the interview, what if your hospital’s version of what happened doesn’t align with yours? What if it’s a he-said-she-said situation with a highly regarded surgeon at your hospital, and they’re taking the surgeon’s side? In that instance, you likely would not have coverage if they want you to absorb all blame and accountability for an error.

And even if the hospital doesn’t blame you for something and does cover legal representation for a civil case and settlement, they likely are not going to cover any legal representation for professional licensing defense if you’re under discipline by your state board of nursing.

RaDonda Vaught Timeline: Final Thoughts

This was a landmark case that sent shockwaves through the nursing community. A culmination of many things happened at once:

  • Unfortunate errors at the bedside
  • Less-than-ideal systems
  • A fatal outcome
  • A hospital and health department who thought it wasn’t a big deal
  • A whistleblower who did
  • CMS investigation
  • A motivated district attorney
  • A hospital and health department doing damage control

Many can argue whether or not criminal charges were appropriate. However, the only thing we can control is ourselves. Remember that while this case was all over the headlines, it is an exception and not the rule. To worry that any minor medication error will turn into criminal charges is not wise. This will cause unnecessary worry and anxiety.

It is helpful to be aware that your employer’s ultimate goal is to protect itself, not you. Be empowered to be your own protector, however that might look. That might look like having your own professional liability insurance, practicing diligently, advocating for yourself in your workplace when unsafe situations or cultures arise, and knowing when find a new job. As Lorie mentioned in the podcast, you can find a new job but you can’t find a new license.

References

Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.

20 Comments

  1. Anne LLewellyn

    Thank you for your comprehensive overview. This was very helpful. I would like to see this case used as an example and teach nurses and other healthcare professionals about safety and the impact of medical errors. Instead of putting RaDonda in prison, have her go to every State in our country and talk to nurses about how ‘easy’ you can get into this type of trouble. Sitting back reading the recount – you wonder how this happened. What about the nurse she was training? No one questioned anything……how can we talk this example and use to to educate and help nurses and other healthcare professionals do their jobs safely. Putting her in prison will do no good……using her example can be educational moment for all.

    Reply
  2. Deb E

    Great podcast episode and look forward to Lorie’s interview. I was a paralegal before a nurse & still find the law fascinating, especially with healthcare issues. It really helped to hear more of the case details to understand the unfortunate results.

    Reply
  3. Yuliya

    Just started to listen and couldn’t ignore the comment you made of her not beeing overwork, she worked “the day prior of December 26th – December 27th”… I don’t want to sound picky but I believe that the day before 12/26/17 was a Xmas. Her working on that day and the day after could’ve been a reason for her not being focused. Just a thought.
    Then you stated that “ 9. She knew the PET scan staff could administer the med or monitor after.”???
    I didn’t even listen the whole podcast yet. … I guess I am picky…
    Best wishes always

    Reply
    • Kati Kleber, MSN RN CCRN-K

      Being picky with this stuff is important – no worries there! I actually recorded this about 4 times before getting the actual final recording because I was being picky about making sure I got the details right! I definitely misspoke about the PET scan and will mention that when I release Part 2 this week. I realized I wrote it incorrectly in the blog post as well, and that has been updated. From the documentation I reviewed, she worked Dec 25th and this occurred on Dec 26th, (patient died very early in am on Dec. 27th) so it was Shift #2 in a row and informed investigators (again, without representation so she likely was oversharing information) that she wasn’t tired or overworked, and that they were not understaffed. Christmas being the day before could have made her feel distracted, but not on board with that explaining the repeated skipped safety checks. I think in one of my previous recordings I discussed Christmas but it didn’t make it to the final cut! Thanks for your comments; appreciate your thoughts and input. Looking to release the next one this week – likely Wednesday if all goes according to plan!

      Reply
  4. Lisa

    Thank you for taking the time to review this case and present all the facts.

    Reply
  5. Ivy Ellis

    This is hands down, the best thing I’ve read so far about this case. Thank you so much for doing the research, and discussing it in such a supportive, factual way. I needed to read this.

    Reply
    • Kati Kleber, MSN RN CCRN-K

      My pleasure, it definitely took some time but I think it was well worth the effort to really understand what’s going on.

      Reply
  6. D.Hale

    It should be noted as a conflict of interest that Glenn Funk, DA is also a professor of law at Vanderbilt University.

    Reply
    • Kati Kleber, MSN RN CCRN-K

      After I published this, someone shared this information with me and I’ve since heard it a few more times. When writing/recording I wasn’t aware, but will make sure to mention this in Part 2. I wish I was aware of this before I sat down with Lorie Brown for that interview because I would have loved to get her perspective of it. Wow.

      Reply
  7. Leslie

    Perfectly said! I think a lot of us feel this way, and it’s difficult to find the words…it’s hard not to empathize with her, but at the same time she made a huge mistake. I would have loved to see you explore the DA’s connection to Vanderbuilt.

    Reply
    • Kati Kleber, MSN RN CCRN-K

      Appreciate it, Leslie! I recently learned about this connection over the past few days and have not had time to really dive into that. Wow, so many layers and variables, and while I knew the justice system was far from perfect, it’s really disheartening to see things play out like this. The fact that she’s taking literally all of the blame and Vanderbilt just had to remediate but essentially no fines or discipline is pretty astonishing.

      Reply
  8. Nick Angelis, CRNA

    My first job was as a nurse tech “pair of extra hands.” I just flitted from task to task without really learning the detailed responsibility nurses need to learn in avoiding tragic outcomes like this one.

    Reply
  9. Diane Lansing

    Thank you so much for all the research you did into this case. I’ve heard so many different stories about what happened, and this paints a much clearer picture of the facts.
    I also appreciate and agree with your perspective on how this case affects all of us as nurses.

    Reply
  10. Tom

    As a nurse, when I first heard about this case, and working for a “Speak Up Culture” health care system, my initial reaction was that no nurse should every be held criminally responsible for an error. But as I think about it more, and read your review, I remind myself of the police officers who believe that no cop should ever be held criminally accountable for the death of a person in custody, and the people who say that George Floyd would still be alive if he weren’t breaking the law. I absolutely believe that Chauvin deserves to be in jail, and almost think it would be hypocritical of me to insist that a nurse never should be held to the same level of culpability. In both cases, Chauvin and Vaught, there were policies and procedures in place to prevent this level of harm, and in both cases, those policies and procedures were ignored to an excessive level. I would agree with your assessment that no reasonable nurse would make this error. I know that nurses want to have each other’s backs, and any one of us can make an error at any time, but this is egregious. I’m afraid that if acf like this is no worse than any error that could be made, we’re doing our own profession a disservice, and scaring potential nurses away. I have worked with hundreds of nurses, and can’t imagine in a million years any one of the making this error…

    Reply
  11. DARLENE Ann NELSON

    The content is horribly flawed. Ms. Vaught was NOT working in the Neuro ICU. She had NO ICU experience. She was inappropriately delegated to care for an ICU patient in the remote, Radiology Department as per the TN Board of Nursing Rules and Regulations. Radiology nursing is a highly specialized, critical care nursing, specialty.

    Reply
  12. Glenn Matthews

    Quite an insightful article. I had heard that in the court documents RaDonda had 20 drug errors prior to the incident. I have not been able to find the document to confirm this is the the case. Can anyone confirm this was the case. My view on reviewing a clinical incident is 1. What is expected of the nurse 2. What is reasonable (given their education and experience). and 3. Under what circumstances/conditions.

    Thanks Glenn

    Reply
    • Kleber, MSN RN

      Hi Glenn! I’ve not heard about the 20 drug errors, I have heard it was her first one from people online but nothing verified.

      Reply
      • Glenn Matthews

        Hi Kati,
        thanks for the info. I think the person probably meant they were the errors preceding the incident. Rather than 20 individual errors prior to the incident. I have been looking at the incident on a youtube blog. And one punter has stated
        1. She had two recent death in the family
        2. Had been ill
        3. Team stress due to change of management
        4. A code blue and hour prior to the transport and task saturation
        5. Staffing shortages in the department
        6. doing an unfamiliar role
        7. supporting a new staff member without being a trainer
        this sum what differs to the information provided in the account above. I guess the account in the difference is what was said in the initial interview vs the court preceding’s. cheers Glenn

        Reply
  13. Hailey Marrero

    I’m a first semester nursing student, and we have to write a paper on Vaught to go over the 5 rights of med administration. I listened to this episode when it originally came out, but now I am using it as one of my primary sources of the account! Thanks so much for the diligent work you did on this podcast!

    Reply

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