NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A local trial focused on a former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse has sparked nationwide interest. RaDonda Vaught was found guilty on Friday of criminally negligent homicide, after accidentally giving a patient a fatal dose of the wrong medication.
The verdict sent shockwaves through the healthcare industry, specifically for nurses who called it disturbing.
“I’m terrified that I’m now in a profession where God forbid I do make a mistake,” said one nurse outside of the courtroom. She feared to show her face or name on camera out of retaliation.
“Since errors do happen, I’m not saying that they should be ignored, they should be addressed. Discover why they happened, how they happened, look at the processes that went into the error, come up with a plan going forward with how it could be prevented in the future, but criminalizing an error could be very harmful,” explained Carla Kirkland, the past president of the Tennessee Nurses Association.
Friday’s verdict caused many healthcare workers to rethink how they do their job. The American Nurses Association called out the criminalization of medical errors in a statement regarding Vaught’s case. The statement outlined how this trial could have a “chilling effect on reporting and process improvement.”
Moments after the verdict was read, the Tennessee Nurses Association held their own meeting, discussing what a guilty verdict could potentially mean for healthcare workers moving forward.
“Tennessee Nurses Association is disturbed by the verdict, especially since this was an unintentional error and there’s a fear that this could impact healthcare workers, physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, x-ray technicians. People may be more afraid to report errors now,” explained Kirkland.
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The pandemic has already stretched nurses thin, many feeling overwhelmed and overworked. Kirkland explained there had already been a nursing shortage, pre-pandemic, and once COVID-19 hit the situation became worse.
She told News 2, there could be some repercussions to this verdict, and the healthcare industry could see less people eager to join the medical field, due to the risk.
“There’s a lot of liability in healthcare, and we do the very best we can, but we know what short staffing can cause an increase in error,” said Kirkland.
She explained every day will now bring another conversation on how to move forward, but she said the clear message is the criminalization of nurses who make an accidental mistake needs to be amended.