Nursing & Healthcare News

RaDonda Vaught Receives Probation

Former nurse will have the opportunity for her record to be expunged

The former Tennessee nurse recently convicted of two criminal charges in the 2017 death of a patient will not go to prison. On May 13, the judge sentenced RaDonda Vaught to three years’ probation.

Probationary Sentence

Although the charges of which the jury convicted RaDonda Vaught in March — criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult — can carry a maximum sentence of eight years in prison, Judge Jennifer L. Smith took into account the consequences the former nurse has already suffered and the fact that Vaught “credibly expressed remorse” for the medication error that killed patient Charlene Murphey in December 2017.

Smith sentenced Vaught to three years’ probation and granted her a judicial diversion, which means Vaught’s conviction can be eventually be expunged if she fulfills the terms of her probation. Vaught lost her RN license in 2021.

Supporters Rally

Vaught’s case has become a cause célèbre for the nursing profession. Two hours before her sentencing hearing began on May 13, nurses from around the country gathered in Nashville Public Square Park to show their support. Many wore purple T-shirts emblazoned with the words “#IAmRaDonda.”

RN Career Events

Speaking to the crowd from beneath a purple-and-white banner reading, “We Are Nurses, Not Criminals,” organizer Tina Vinsant, RN, BSN, host of the “Good Nurse, Bad Nurse” podcast, asked for a moment of silence for Charlene Murphey, the patient who died after Vaught inadvertently administered the paralyzing agent vecuronium instead of the prescribed sedative.

“Obviously, something tragic happened, but we’re also here to support our sister nurse,” Vinsant declared. She says Vaught “shouldn’t have been charged in the first place” for the error that killed Murphey.

ANA Request for Leniency

On May 5, a week before the sentencing hearing, the ANA and the Tennessee Nurses Association (TNA) took the unusual step of sending a letter to the judge, pleading for leniency for Vaught. “Nurses are carefully watching this case and they are scared,” the letter said. “They see themselves in Nurse Vaught; we see ourselves in Nurse Vaught. Our peers and colleagues and healthcare professionals beyond nursing see themselves in Vaught.”

The letter emphasized Vaught’s good faith in reporting the error and cooperating with investigators, saying her “actions were honest and ethical and reflect the expectations outlined in the Nurses Code of Ethics to timely disclose errors to promote patient health and safety.”

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An Apology, But No Clemency

After her sentencing, Vaught apologized to the Murphey family, both for the error that killed their loved one and for the public spectacle that has followed. (In a statement provided to the district attorney’s office following the verdict in March, Murphey’s daughter-in-law, Chandra Murphey, said the political controversy has denied the family “closure” and forced them to endure the trauma “all over again.”)

“You don’t deserve this,” Vaught said. “I hope it does not come across as people forgetting your loved one.”

Representatives of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee reported in April that the governor does not plan to grant clemency to RaDonda Vaught, but podcaster Tina Vinsant says she and other supporters have called on state legislators to protect nurses from criminal liability in cases of medical error. Vinsant wants to see similar protections enacted in every state.

In a statement released after the sentencing, the ANA and TNA expressed gratitude for the lenient sentence, but warned again of the dangers of criminalizing medical errors, asking healthcare leaders, regulators and administrators to instead “support a just culture, which includes recognizing that mistakes happen and systems fail.”


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