Nurse Sentencing Should Be a Notice to For-Profit Hospitals To Be Forthright In The Future Regarding Staff Errors Leading to Fatalities

by Jeffrey J. Downey, Esq 

A nurse in Tennessee has been convicted of murder for a fatal medication mistake that led to the death of a 75-year-old patient. Rhonda Vaught was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult, a conviction that has brought attention from across the country, especially from the nurse practitioner community. 

I had written about this just a few weeks ago regarding this case as the trial was in progress. 

Nurse Rhonda Vaught is scheduled to be sentenced on May 13th.   

Several nurse practitioner organizations have come forth to support the defendant’s side.  The American Nurses Association said in a statement it is “deeply distressed by this verdict and the harmful ramifications of criminalizing the honest reporting of mistakes.”  

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses said “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.” 

The facts revealed that the hospital tried to sweep the case under their rug, and it took a whistleblower to bring attention to the matter first in Tennessee and then nationally.  “The cover-up always makes things worse, explains Virginia nursing home attorney” Jeffrey J. Downey.  “When juries hear that information, they want to punish those involved.  Unfortunately, in this case the hospital was not criminally prosecuted,” explains Downey.   And in this case problems with the electronic medical dispensing system contributed to the outcome here.  

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health outlined the following over 15 years ago: 

  • Nurses working greater than 13 hours had over double the risk of burnout and dissatisfaction 
  • Nurses working 12 hours or more had a risk factor of making error three times, compared to an 8 and a half-hour shift. 
  • In critical care, the risk increased 50 percent when nurses worked more than 12.5 hours. 
  • Hospitals with higher mortality rates had higher rates of nurses working long hours. 

Hospitals tend to have higher staff to patient ratios compared to nursing homes.  Lack of adequate staffing contributes to many adverse outcomes including pressure wounds (bed sores), falls causing fractures, elopements, untimely treatment or diagnosis, poor hygiene, increased risk of infection and wrongful death.   

If you or a loved one have been the victim of elder abuse involving a nursing home or assisted living facility or another health care provider, contact our personal injury law firm at 703-564-7318 to learn more about your legal rights. We handle cases in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. If you cannot come to us, we can come to you.  Learn more about the Law Office of Jeffrey Downey by reviewing what our clients have to say about the law firm.

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