Statement by the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO Regarding the Conviction of RaDonda Vaught

Nurses across the nation have been following the trial and ultimate verdict of RaDonda Vaught, the Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse who was convicted of gross neglect and criminally negligent homicide for a fatal drug error. On December 26, 2017, Vaught overrode the hospital’s computerized drug dispensing system and pulled the wrong medication for her patient. The wrong medication was given and resulted in the death of the patient.

There are many extenuating circumstances surrounding the Vaught case including the fact that Vanderbilt University Medical Center knew that there was a long standing problem between its electronic medical record and the medication dispensing system. The only way that timely meds could be given was to override the system, a process Vanderbilt encouraged their nurses to use. Vanderbilt also reported the death to the County Coroner without mentioning it was a medication error case and failed to report the death to the agencies to which they were required to report.  Finally, Vanderbilt negotiated an out-of-court settlement with the patient’s family that requires them not to speak publicly about the case.

While Vaught honestly reported her mistake, Vanderbilt took several actions to protect itself and its reputation and threw her under the bus.

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic nurses were working in a broken healthcare system. A system where nursing was already short staffed, working under the most adverse work conditions and facing incredible pressure to deliver quality patient care. A system which requires good nurses to take short cuts in order to get their work completed.

CWA has represented registered nurses for almost fifty years. During that time we have come to know and respect the incredible character of our members. The knowledge, strength, stamina and commitment it takes to work as a registered nurse. Nurses work 365 days a year including weekends and holidays. They are the eyes and ears of the healthcare system and take care of the sickest of the sick among us. They have nothing but our greatest admiration and respect. But human beings make mistakes and that is true for those working in the healthcare system. There are thousands of medical errors per year; unfortunately some of them result in death.

At CWA, we are deeply concerned by the harmful ramifications of criminalizing the honest reporting of mistakes. There will be less reporting of honest mistakes, the inability to correct processes that caused the mistake and a much greater likelihood that errors will be repeated.

CWA is calling on our justice system to correct the error made in convicting RaDonda Vaught and set the record straight. We believe there are more effective methods for reviewing medical errors, improving our current system for making sure that mistakes are not repeated and finding a way to use corrective action in working with employees that make errors.

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