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Note: This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday newsletter. Want content like this delivered to your inbox before it hits our blog? Subscribe here.

The Big Story: Healthcare workers fear for the future after ex-Vanderbilt nurse found guilty in 2017 death of patient

“A local trial focused on a former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse has sparked nationwide interest. RaDonda Vaught was found guilty on Friday of criminally negligent homicide, after accidentally giving a patient a fatal dose of the wrong medication. ‘I’m terrified that I’m now in a profession where, God forbid, I do make a mistake,’ said one nurse outside of the courtroom.”

Where We Are Today

2-minute read

That quote serves as an intense summary of the concern felt by caregivers across the country, and it adds another layer of pressure on provider organizations already struggling to fill nursing roles. A joint statement by the American Nurses Association and Tennessee Nurses Association says, “The criminalization of medical errors is unnerving, and this verdict sets into motion a dangerous precedent. Like many nurses who have been monitoring this case closely, we were hopeful for a different outcome. It is a sad day for all of those who are involved, and the families impacted by this tragedy.”

The whole situation is awful. The tragedy of Charlene Murphey’s death and everything surrounding it. The worry this adds to an already exhausted healthcare workforce, many of whom were considering their future in the profession before the verdict. And it adds to the trouble that no provider organization needs with staffing the number one concern across the country.

We will continue to watch and discuss this situation and potential fallout. It’s a tense moment that will further strain the relationship between staff and administration. It’s also one that could exacerbate existing challenges both for individuals and healthcare institutions. For now, a few brief thoughts for leaders of provider organizations:

  • Your radar is on. Keep it up. This verdict and the circumstances surrounding it will reverberate for a long time. Have an ear out for how it’s being discussed – by the public, by healthcare professionals, by other stakeholders within the industry.
  • Your nurses are talking about the situation and your organization needs to hear what they’re saying so you can understand the concerns. You know your organization the best, so be present in whatever way makes the most sense for your culture. But be there – whatever that means for you – to hear from your nurses.
  • Bring everyone around the table. Clinical leadership, operations, legal, HR. Have conversations about how the organization’s mission, vision, values – as well as its commitment to supporting caregivers in a culture of safety – should be applied in this moment. You’re likely to already be having some of these conversations. We encourage you to ensure that everyone is represented and that the discussions are rooted in your mission to serve and to care.
  • Begin looking at how your organization can support and protect your nurses from an operational standpoint. Work with your team to identify areas where things can be tightened up to limit the chance an error will occur, or where an error is even an option. Nurses are under so much pressure, any place where that pressure can be reduced and safety improved is worth a look.
  • When appropriate, let your nurses know what you’re doing and how you’re working to support them. Be clear and honest about your organization’s position and the thoughts of leaders within the organization.
  • If you find yourself trying to say something but unsure of what it is, that probably means there’s more to learn. Go back to the start and listen some more.

This piece was originally published over the weekend in our Sunday Quick Think newsletter. Fill out the form to get that in your inbox every week.