Ex-Vanderbilt nurse charged with reckless homicide enters not guilty plea

Posted at 11:50 AM, Mar 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-05 12:51:35-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse charged with reckless homicide and patient abuse pleaded not guilty in court, Wednesday.

RaDonda Vaught was recently indicted for providing the wrong medication that paralyzed and killed Charlene Murphey in December 2017. She was supposed to administer a sedative instead.

Despite the felony charges she faces, a number of supporters has grown to back her up, best reflected through her GoFundMe that has raised nearly $73,000 for legal expenses in a matter of 11 days.

Attorney Peter Strianse entered the plea on behalf of his client in front of Judge Jennifer Smith and a large group of nurses who came out to support Vaught by filling half of the courtroom. Some of the nurses were her former co-workers, while others were strangers who drove in from out of state such as Georgia and Missouri.

"Its just been an overwhelming amount of support and I'm very thankful that I picked a profession with such generous and loving people," Vaught said after her hearing. "I want to say 'thank you' to everyone who said a prayer or called, or emailed, or reached out in some way."

One of the nurses who traveled to Nashville included Janie Harvey Garner of Show Me Your Stethoscope, an online nurse advocacy group helping raise money for Vaught. Many medical professionals like her worry imposing criminal charges on what they simply deem as a mistake will cause a bad precedent.

"If nurses are not allowed to tell the truth without fear of prison, people will die," Garner told NewsChannel 5.

"None of us should have to fear for our licenses, none of us should have to fear that a mistake even a tragic one would devastate not only the lives of the patient but our family," added Marguerite McBride, a nurse who worked with Vaught.

Vaught was able to get a job at TriStar Centennial Medical Center after Murphey's death. While she is currently employed at the hospital, a spokesperson said that she is currently suspended and had no contact with patients since February 4, the day she was charged.

Strianse said state health officials reviewed her case and took no action against her license.

"It's a mistake and it's not all of her fault either. There were some systemic problems with the way they dispense medicine," Strianse said. "I was shocked that the district attorney would bring criminal charges to a case like this, ultimately she's sort of a fall person for Vanderbilt."

A report released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said VUMC failed to ensure patients receive care in a safe setting and were free from neglect after reviewing documents, policies and procedures.

The investigation revealed Murphey requested something for anxiety before a PET scan at the radiology department because she was claustrophobic. The physician ordered the sedative Versed but after Vaught couldn't find the drug in the Automatic Dispensing Cabinet (ADC), she chose to override the setting, according to the report.

Vaught "typed in the first 2 letters of Versed which are VE and chose the 1st medication on the list." In an interview, she said she was talking to someone while getting the drug and didn't re-check the vial.

As a result, the drug caused paralysis and ultimately led to Murphey's death. Murphey was found without a pulse and unresponsive. Vaught then reported to managers.

The report said there was no documentation in the policy detailing any procedure or guidance regarding the manner and frequency of monitoring patients during and after medications were administered.

VUMC didn't report Murphey's death to the state as mandated.

Director of Investigations said in an interview that they were "told that maybe there was a medication error but that was just hearsay, and nothing has been documented in the medical record, no named drug and death certificate says had a bleed. We declined jurisdiction because there was an MRI that confirmed the bleed."

VUMC previously released this statement:

“VUMC was notified of an adverse finding by the Tennessee Department of Health after an on-site survey involving a patient who died in December 2017 following a medication error. In reviewing the event at the time it happened, we identified that the error occurred because a staff member had bypassed multiple safety mechanisms that were in place to prevent such errors. We disclosed the error to the patient’s family as soon as we confirmed that an error had occurred, and immediately took necessary corrective actions (including appropriate personnel actions). We will continue to work closely with representatives of Tennessee Department of Health and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to assure that any remaining concerns are fully resolved within the specified time frame."

The son of Murphey told NewsChannel 5 that they forgive the nurse and had no plans to file a lawsuit. When asked if they could file a lawsuit against the hospital, the son said "no comment" but that there was still legal representation.

Another hearing has been set for April 11th.