RaDonda Vaught, the former Tennessee nurse convicted of two felonies related to a drug error, was sentenced to three years probation on May 13, 2022 (during Nurses Week, in fact). What’s more, she was granted a judicial diversion, which means that the conviction will be expunged if she completes a three-year probation.
Universally, there has been a sigh of relief among my colleagues and myself.
The mistake Ms. Vaught committed was horrific. A patient, a person and mother, died. The situation was absolutely terrible. It must never happen again.
And that is why Ms. Vaught was up front about her mistake and did the right thing. She wanted to make sure that the system will be fixed so such a terrible mistake can never happen again. She was devastated by her mistake. She was fired and lost her license. She suffered a lot of serious consequences.
She should not have, however, been criminally prosecuted for her mistake. She was not trying to murder the patient. This case was wrong from the very beginning, and so many of us were outraged (and terrified) by the prosecution.
We went into healthcare answering a calling – a calling to help those who are ill get better. For those of us in the ICU, we are answering a calling to care for those who are at their most vulnerable time battling life-threatening illness. We face enormous challenges each and every day. During the depths of the pandemic, we placed our lives and the lives of our loved ones at risk caring for COVID patients.
None of us went into healthcare thinking that we could be criminally prosecuted for a mistake.
None of us is perfect. We sometimes make mistakes. Those mistakes can be tragic, and we must never take down our guard. Because we cannot take human beings out of healthcare, systems need to be in place to prevent the most tragic and devastating mistakes from reaching our patients. Those systems – if they were in place – failed in this instance.
That does not make RaDonda Vaught a murderer. That does not mean she should have been prosecuted as a criminal in criminal court. I am very glad she will not spend time in jail, and the case should never have been brought forth in the first place.
This case sent shockwaves across our field, in precisely the worst possible time. I am sure many have quit the field thinking that, if I could go to jail if I make a mistake, then staying in healthcare is simply not worth it. This is not right.
Yes, there are some – doctors and nurses – who are truly terrible people and have committed crimes during their times working in healthcare. Yes, they need to be punished for their crimes. This case is not one of those instances. RaDonda Vaught made a terrible mistake, but she is not a murderer. I pray that this case is not repeated across our country. We do not need any more stress than that which we already have.