On May 13, former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse RaDonda Vaught was sentenced to three years of supervised probation. Vaught was convicted on March 25 of criminally negligent homicide and impaired adult abuse due to a 2017 medication error that resulted in a patient’s death.
The criminal conviction and sentencing of a nurse for a medication error is a backward step for patient safety. Catastrophic errors are often the result of many factors, and individuals should be able to safely report errors or system inadequacies. This allows for root cause analysis and correction of systemic problems.
Decades of safety research demonstrate that a punitive approach to healthcare errors drives problems into the shadows and decreases patient safety. This is a heartbreaking case for all involved. Vaught took responsibility for her part in the medication error and provided Vanderbilt University Medical Center with details of how it happened. Although Vaught received probation, her criminal conviction and three-year sentence may lead clinicians to think twice about such open reporting of errors. This case has placed patient safety at risk and has further demoralized an already exhausted and overworked nursing workforce in the face of existing nurse staffing shortages.