Nurse charged in patient’s death pleads not guilty surrounded by supporters

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse accused of causing a patient’s death appeared in court Wednesday, alongside dozens of supporters.

RaDonda Vaught, 35, is charged with reckless homicide and abuse of an impaired adult. She pleaded not guilty.

Vaught was indicted by a grand jury on February 1, 2019, after the TBI investigated the death of 75-year-old Charlene Murphey. 

The TBI began investigating after a report was published from the Tennessee Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The report says Murphey was admitted to Vanderbilt hospital on December 24, 2017. She was diagnosed with a hematoma of the brain, headache and vision field loss in both eyes. 

Murphey was supposed to be given the drug Versed to calm her anxiety before a PET scan. Vaught was her nurse.

Vaught told CMS investigators that she couldn’t find Versed in the hospital’s Automatic Dispensing Cabinet and instead, typed in “VE” using the system’s override feature.

She chose and then administered the first drug that was shown, which was Vecuronium; a powerful drug that causes paralysis and is used in the execution of prisoners. Murphey was unresponsive just 45 minutes later.

The CMS report, which was completed on November 8, 2018, said Vanderbilt failed to ensure that its patients received care in a safe setting and failed to ensure that their nurses were trained so that the correct medications were administered to all patients.

However, the report says that ultimately, nurses are accountable for the drugs they administer.

Vaught has received an outpouring of support from nurses across the globe. Many say Vaught made a fatal mistake but that her charges set a dangerous precedent for medical errors.

Janie Harvey-Garner is with the group “Show Me Your Stethoscope.” She has been raising money for Vaught’s criminal defense and drove from St. Louis to support Vaught in court.

Harvey-Garner said medication errors happen at hospitals.

“We as nurses, we don’t want them to be fatal. We remember Charlene Murphey. She’s a real person. This isn’t just about her or just about Radonda. This is about whether you’ll be able to trust your nurse in the hospital.”

Harvey-Garner points out that Vaught admitted she made the medication error.

“If nurses are not allowed to tell the truth without fear of prison people will die,” she said.

Other nurses echoed the precedent, they say, the charges set. 

“This is an absolute tragedy and it sets a terrible precedent for all of us,” said Vaught’s former colleague Marguerite McBride. “None of us should have to fear for our licenses. None of us should fear that a mistake, even a tragic one, would devastate not only the lives of the patient but our family and our whole life.”


Some of Vaught’s supporters traveled to Nashville from various cities across the country.

“It has been an overwhelming amount of support,” Vaught said after her court hearing. “I am very thankful that I picked a profession with such generous and loving people. I just want to say thank you to everyone who’s said a prayer, or called, or emailed, or reached out in some way. Just thank you to them.”

After her arraignment, Vaught’s attorney pointed to the state’s findings that Vanderbilt is partly responsible for Murphey’s death.

“When all the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be pretty clear that this was a mistake,” said attorney Peter Strianse. “It is a mistake and it’s not all of her fault. There are some real systemic problems with the way Vanderbilt dispenses medicine.”

Vanderbilt said it could not comment because of the pending litigation.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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