On March 25, former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse RaDonda Vaught was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and impaired adult abuse due to a 2017 medication error that resulted in a patient’s death. This conviction sets a dangerous precedent that puts patient safety at risk for years to come.
Decades of safety research, including the Institute of Medicine’s pioneering report To Err Is Human, has demonstrated that a punitive approach to healthcare errors drives problems into the shadows and decreases patient safety. In addition, catastrophic errors are often the result of many factors, and the ability to safely report errors allows for root cause analysis and correction of systemic problems. Vaught immediately reported her error to her supervisors and took responsibility for her actions. This criminal prosecution and verdict will negatively impact the timely and honest reporting of errors. In addition, this case has further demoralized an already exhausted and overworked nursing workforce in the face of existing nurse staffing shortages.