5 Headline Making Stories of Nurses Losing Their License

by | Apr 12, 2024 | Nurses in the News, Nursing Jobs & Interviews | 0 comments

Nurses are entrusted with immense responsibility, and our professional licenses are the cornerstone of our careers. Unfortunately, there are instances where nurses face the devastating consequence of losing their licenses. This can be due to genuine mistakes, severe neglectful behavior, or even intentional harm.

In this blog post, we’ll explore five real-life stories of nurses losing their licenses and the invaluable lessons we can glean from these experiences.

stories of nurses losing their license

Stories of Nurses Who Have Lost Their License

1. RaDonda Vaught Case

In 2017, while a nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vaught inadvertently administered a paralyzing agent, Vecuronium, instead of the intended sedative, Versed, to a patient in the Radiology department subject to a PET Scan. The patient died from an anoxic brain injury.

She was fired, but Vanderbilt reached an out-of-court settlement with the family, and later, she started working as a throughput coordinator at a different hospital.

But later, in 2018, an anonymous tipster notified federal and state officials about the unreported error. At first, the Tennessee Department of Health chose not to pursue disciplinary action against her, but then, in early 2019, the CMS, after investigations, decided to arrest her, and the above Department of Health reversed its previous decision of not disciplining her. 

Her license was revoked in 2021. This case is the most popular regarding nurses being arrested and losing their license, as it became public and the press was involved. 

Her defense argued systemic issues within the hospital (medication storage and staffing shortages) contributed to the error. Despite this, Vaught was found guilty in 2022 and sentenced to three years of probation, sparking debates about medical errors, criminal culpability, and patient safety.

Her appeal for reinstalling her license was denied in 2023.

You can find extensive information about this timeline, advice, steps we can take as a nurse community, and my opinion here.

2. Julie Thao

Julie Thao, a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, WI, faced a tragic incident in the summer of 2006 when 16-year-old Jasmine Gant, admitted to Labor and Delivery to give birth, died after Thao mistakenly administered an epidural anesthetic intravenously instead of the prescribed IV antibiotic for a strep infection.

Gant suffered seizures shortly after receiving the epidural IV, resulting in her death. Thao admitted to several lapses in protocol during her sentencing, including removing the epidural bag without authorization, failing to scan its barcode, ignoring a warning label, and disregarding drug administration rules.

Despite Thao’s acceptance of responsibility, the felony criminal charges and subsequent actions by the state nursing board, including a nine-month license suspension and three years of probation, were met with protests from medical and nursing associations. Also, according to ReliasMedina, as a component of the disciplinary measures imposed by the state board, should Thao resume her nursing duties, she would be restricted from working shifts exceeding 12 hours. She is subject to limitations regarding the specific areas of hospital nursing in which she may practice.

The state nursing board implied that Thao may have been fatigued at the time of the error. Thao had completed a 16-hour shift that concluded at midnight the day prior and had slept at the hospital to resume duty at 7 a.m. The incident resulting in Gant’s death occurred shortly after noon.

The incident led to regulatory actions against St. Mary’s Hospital, with potential repercussions such as losing Medicare contracts. However, these were retracted after the hospital implemented staff re-education programs.

3. Christann Gainey

Former nurse Christann Gainey was a 34-year-old LPN at Cathedral Village senior living facility. She pleaded guilty in court in 2022 to misdemeanor neglect of a care-dependent person and tampering with records in the 2018 death of Herbert R. McMaster Sr., the father of former Trump national security advisor H.R. McMaster. 

Gainey initially faced additional felony neglect and involuntary manslaughter charges, which were dropped as part of the plea agreement.

Prosecutors argued that Gainey failed to conduct required vital sign and neurological checks on McMaster after he fell and struck his head at Cathedral Village Senior Living Facility in Philadelphia in April 2018. He died hours later as the result of a brain hemorrhage; no CPR was performed on him.  

Gainey admitted to fabricating records to indicate that she had performed the required checks. Prosecutors presented hours of surveillance footage during preliminary hearings, revealing that Gainey was absent from McMaster’s vicinity during the times she claimed to have conducted the neurological checks, even one purportedly done after his passing.

At court, Gainey admitted to falsifying records. She was sentenced to six months of house arrest followed by five years of probation, with restrictions on seeking license reinstatement or working in care facilities during this time, according to the law

The Pennsylvania Health Department’s 2018 report blamed facility administrators for failing their duties, citing lapses in fall prevention, neurological checks, and CPR attempts. According to the 141-page report, McMaster Sr. experienced his fatal fall, marking the fifth incident of its kind, during his four-day residency at the Cathedral Village retirement community. He had been admitted to the facility for rehabilitation following a stroke.

4. Dorothea Harvilik

The New Jersey Board of Nursing permanently revoked the license of the registered professional nurse Dorothea Harvilik following allegations of mistreatment towards a ventilator-dependent, bed-bound patient. 

The patient’s mother installed a camera to monitor Harvilik’s interactions with her son after observing scratches on his hands, leading to the discovery of purported mistreatment. Harvilik was employed by a Teaneck home health care service agency and provided skilled nursing care to the patient at home.

Upon discovering the video capturing the alleged abuse, the agency terminated Harvilik for professional misconduct, prompting the Board to immediately open an investigation, which resulted in the permanent revocation of her license.

In accordance with the Consent Order, Harvilik agreed to the revocation without admitting to the allegations against her and is barred from seeking reinstatement of her license in the future.

5. Judith Sobol

Among the saddest stories of nurses losing their license, is that of Judith Sobol. On June 20, 2022, Sobol, a registered nurse, reported for her overnight evening shift to care for a 3-year-old girl reliant on a ventilator, despite being under the influence of methamphetamines. In the early morning, the child’s parents found Sobol in a state of confusion, with the child unresponsive and her tracheal tube disconnected.

Despite efforts by the parents and medical staff, resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful. Sobol later confessed to law enforcement that she had used methamphetamines before coming to work. Subsequently, police found drug paraphernalia and methamphetamine in her possession.

On February 10, 2023, the Board of Nursing Disciplinary Subcommittee issued an order to revoke Sobol’s nursing license and impose a $150,000 fine. Subsequently, Sobol was found guilty of Second-Degree Murder by a Berrien County jury and received a sentence of 30 to 75 years in May of the same year. She is serving her sentence at the State’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility.

Following her conviction, the Department of Attorney General, acting on behalf of LARA, filed a second administrative complaint in August 2023 based on the murder conviction, which constitutes another violation of the Public Health Code. This violation allows for the permanent revocation of Sobol’s nursing license. According to an official source, Sobol failed to respond to this second complaint, resulting in the subcommittee issuing an order in November 2023 to revoke her nursing license permanently. 

If you would like to know more about nursing professional liability insurance, examples of when this would be necessary, and more valuable resources, listen to my podcast episode with Lorie Brown, a nurse, and lawyer who is an expert on this matter. 

Takeaways to Protect Your Nursing License

These stories are extreme examples of what can happen when nurses are not careful or are impaired. Disciplinary proceedings for professional licenses are a matter of public record.

You can visit any State Board of Nursing website to view the latest disciplinary proceedings. Spoiler alert: Most will be due to drug diversion or substance use disorder, while others will be related to gross misconduct. Many complaints go through a board, but very few result in actually revoking one’s license.

This blog post, in which we spoke with a nurse attorney, discusses losing your license in more depth.

Let’s go over ways to ensure you’re protecting your nursing license.

Diligence in Documentation

The importance of thorough and accurate documentation cannot be overstated. In several cases, inadequate or falsified documentation led to severe consequences for patients and nurses. By prioritizing meticulous documentation practices, nurses can uphold the highest standards of patient care and protect their professional integrity.

The big key here is that you do not document something that you didn’t do. For example, Christann Gainey charted that she completed neuro checks she did not do.

Medication Safety Protocols

Medication errors can have grave repercussions, as seen when nurses administer the wrong medication or dosage. Implementing robust medication safety protocols, including double-checking procedures and adherence to medication administration guidelines, is crucial for preventing errors and ensuring patient safety.

Out of all the stories of nurses losing their license, Radonda Vaught’s case was an example of this. Many safety steps were skipped over which resulted in the death of a patient. No matter how relaxed or confident you feel, never skip essential steps like checking for the correct drug, dose, route, time, and patient. This means no chatting while removing meds from the medication dispenser, physically looking at the medication’s packaging, scanning, and verifying it before administering it to the patient.

Ethical Conduct

Nurses must adhere to ethical principles in all aspects of their practice, including maintaining patient confidentiality and respecting boundaries. Cases involving patient privacy breaches or inappropriate conduct remind nurses of the ethical responsibilities inherent in nursing practice.

Accountability and Responsibility

Accepting responsibility for mistakes and errors is fundamental to professional growth and integrity. Nurses must acknowledge their role in adverse events, take proactive steps to rectify errors, and participate in ongoing education and training to prevent similar incidents.

Advocacy for Patient Safety

Nurses are vital in advocating for patient safety and voicing concerns about unsafe practices or working conditions. By actively participating in quality improvement initiatives and reporting potential hazards or errors, nurses can contribute to a safety culture within healthcare settings.

We talk more about participating in these types of initiatives here.

Self-Care and Wellness

Nursing can be emotionally and physically demanding, and prioritizing self-care is essential for maintaining overall well-being. Nurses should seek colleague support, utilize available resources for stress management, and recognize when to seek assistance to prevent burnout and maintain professional competence.

Lifelong Learning

Continuous learning and professional development are integral to nursing practice. By staying informed about advancements in healthcare, engaging in ongoing education, and seeking opportunities for skill enhancement, nurses can adapt to evolving challenges and provide high-quality care to their patients throughout their careers.

Final Thoughts on Stories of Nurses Losing Their Licenses

These stories are a stark reminder that our actions have consequences. Let’s use them as a learning experience. Stay vigilant, prioritize patient safety, and never compromise your ethical obligations.

Remember, the State Board of Nursing’s duty is to protect the public, not to support nurses. There are different organizations in place to support our profession. You, not your employer, regulatory body, or coworkers, care the most about your license. It’s up to you to be wise and protect it.

More Resources for Nursing and Licensing

  1. Nurse Arrested: RaDonda Vaught Timeline, Charges, Trial, and Aftermath
  2. RaDonda Vaught Trial – Part 2, Interview with Lorie Brown, RN MN JD
  3. How to Write Nursing Credentials: 3 Steps to Success
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.

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