Ex-Vanderbilt nurse charged with homicide pleads not guilty

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- On Wednesday, former Vanderbilt nurse Radonda Leanne Vaught entered a not guilty plea to her charges of reckless homicide and patient abuse.

A spokesman for the district attorney’s office in Davidson County, Tennessee, said prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Vaught because she allegedly overrode the safeguards on a medicine dispensing cabinet while working for Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services investigated the 2017 death. Its report says the nurse was trying to find the drug Versed, a sedative, in the electronic cabinet when she used an override to unlock stronger medications and selected the first drug under ’VE,” which was the execution drug vecuronium. According to WTVF, she was then indicted for providing the wrong medication that paralyzed and killed Charlene Murphy in December of 2017.

Vaught was due in court on Feb. 20. WTVF reported she entered a not guilty plea.

Despite the allegations, WTVF reported Vaught has received support, with nurses, some strangers, who drove in from states such as Georgia and Missouri to support her at court.

"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."

According to WTVF, Vaught was able to get a job at TriStar Centennial Medical Center after Murphey's death and is currently employed there, but she has been currently suspended and had no contact with since Feb. 4, the day she was charged.

Her attorney, Peter Strianese, said 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."

According to the investigation, Murphey had requested something for anxiety ahead of a PET scan because she was claustrophobic. The physician ordered the sedative Versed, but when Vaught couldn't find the drug in the Automatic Dispensing Cabinet, she chose to override the setting, the report said.

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

The report said the drug she chose caused paralysis and ultimately led to Murphey's death. When she was found without a pulse and unresponsive, Vaught reported it 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. WTVF reported that 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 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."

Murphey's son told WTVF that they forgive the nurse and had no plans to file a lawsuit.

Another hearing has been scheduled for April 15.