After a three-day trial in Nashville, Tenn., RaDonda Vaught, a former nurse who was legally charged for a deadly drug error in 2017, was found guilty of gross negligence of an impaired adult and negligent murder on Friday. According to sentencing recommendations issued by the Nashville district attorney’s office, Vaught faces three to six years in jail for neglect and one to two years for negligent homicide as a defendant with no past convictions. Vaught is set to be sentenced on May 13, and her sentences are expected to run consecutively, according to Steve Hayslip, a spokesman for the district attorney. Vaught was found not guilty of homicide by recklessness. Under reckless homicide, criminally negligent homicide was a lesser offense.
Nurses and medical professionals across the country have been keenly following Vaught’s trial, with many fearing that it would set a precedent criminalizing medical errors. Medical errors are usually dealt with by professional licensing boards or civil courts, with criminal trials such as Vaught’s being extremely rare. Janie Harvey Garner, the founder of Show Me Your Stethoscope, a nursing Facebook group with over 600,000 members, is concerned that the conviction may discourage nurses from exposing their own or near-miss errors, lowering the quality of patient care. She said after the verdict, “Healthcare has just altered forever.” “You can’t trust people to tell the truth anymore because they’ll incriminate themselves.”
The American Nurses Association expressed similar worries about Vaught’s conviction, saying it sets a “dangerous precedent” by “criminalizing the honest reporting of mistakes.” According to the statement, some medical errors are “inevitable,” and there are more “effective and just ways” to handle them than criminal prosecution. “The nursing profession is already extremely short-staffed, strained, and facing immense pressure — an unfortunate multi-year trend that was further exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic,” the statement said. “This ruling will have a long-lasting negative impact on the profession.”