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Mass mobilization of nurses keeps RaDonda Vaught out of jail, but the battle must continue!
Statement of the WSWS Health Care Workers Newsletter
On Sunday, May 15, at 2 p.m. EDT, the WSWS Health Care Workers Newsletter is holding an online meeting on the defense of RaDonda Vaught and the fight against for-profit medicine. To register, click here.
On Friday, former Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) nurse RaDonda Vaught was sentenced to three years probation, with no jail time, for a medical error that led to the death of one of her patients in 2017.
The decision not to sentence Vaught to jail was greeted with cheers from nurses who gathered outside the courthouse. Nurses throughout the country are relieved that Judge Jennifer L. Smith rejected the vindictive demands of the state prosecution for up to eight years in prison.
At the same time, the prosecution and conviction of Vaught sets a dangerous precedent for the criminalization of medical errors. Vaught faces three years of intrusive probation, has not had her nursing license restored, and has suffered enormous personal and emotional consequences from the unjust prosecution, while still bearing the weight of the error itself and the life that was lost.
As one nurse told the WSWS Health Care Workers Newsletter after the sentencing, “We all know that what the judge should have said was, ‘We’re sorry RaDonda. Here’s your medical license back. Now learn from your mistake and be a great nurse. We need nurses now more than ever.’”
Nurses should demand that her conviction be overturned. Vaught should be pardoned and given the opportunity to return to her profession as a nurse if she so chooses.
A number of facts arise out of the case of Vaught and the outcome of her sentencing.
First, there is no doubt that had it not been for the massive mobilization of support for Vaught among nurses and other health care workers, she would be presently behind bars. Smith began the hearing Friday morning by noting that the court had been flooded with emails, voicemails and letters on behalf of Vaught. Hundreds of thousands of nurses signed a petition demanding her freedom.
It was out of fear of a social explosion that the court made the decision not to put Vaught in prison.
Second, the character of the prosecution in the case, and the decision to charge Vaught in the first place, demonstrates the attitude of the capitalist state to workers. Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk, who is a professor at Vanderbilt, brought charges against Vaught to protect the reputation and profit interests of the university and medical center. During the trial, the district attorney explicitly said he would not examine the hospital’s “system failures” that led to the mistake and falsely portrayed Vaught as “someone who considered her patient a disposable person.”
During the sentencing hearing, the prosecution, unsatisfied with stripping Vaught of her nursing license and dragging her through the courts, attempted to smear her character. It sought to enlist the family members of Charlene Murphey to argue for a harsh sentence, but both Murphey’s son, Michael, and her daughter-in-law, Chandra, testified that Charlene Murphy would not have wanted to see RaDonda Vaught thrown in jail.
The prosecution then brought up a charge that Vaught made lying statements on a gun license application, a thoroughly scurrilous smear. They asked for an “enhancement” on a sentence of three to six years by claiming that she had abused her position of public and private trust. The prosecution even sought to present Vaught as a self-serving attention-seeker.
Third, all the underlying issues behind this case remain. Vaught has been scapegoated for the consequences of chronic understaffing and the “system failures” that exist in hospitals throughout the country.
The entire medical system is under the grip of giant hospital chains, insurance companies and pharmaceutical and medical equipment monopolies that operate on the basis of profit, not the needs of patients and health care workers.
As one nurse told the Health Care Workers Newsletter outside the Tennessee courtroom, “We need to stop the subordination of health care to profit because it’s killing our society, driving our society into the ground. It’s not just one political party, it’s the system as a whole.” Another said, “When you treat health care like a business and the goal is for profits, you sacrifice patient safety.”
Beyond the profit-driven character of the health care system itself, nurses and health care workers confront a social and political order that is entirely subordinated to the profit interests of a corporate and financial oligarchy.
This has been graphically demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic. From the beginning of the pandemic, the ruling class and its representatives, Democrat and Republican, made the decision not to take the necessary and well-known public health measures—including the shutdown of non-essential production and schools, mass testing and contact tracing—that could have stopped transmission and eradicated the virus.
As a result, more than one million people are now dead in the United States. The pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on all of society, and in particular on the health care system. For two-and-a-half years, nurses and other health care workers—overworked, understaffed and without proper personal protective equipment—have labored under truly horrific conditions. Many have contracted COVID-19 and died. Many more have endured the psychological and emotional burden of witnessing death on a truly massive scale.
Now, the Biden administration has proclaimed the pandemic over, even as the virus continues to spread, infect and evolve into new strains. Democrats and Republicans can find hundreds of billions at the drop of a hat to fund the US war machine—the apparatus of death and destruction—but even the most minimal spending for health care to deal with the pandemic and save lives gets scrapped.
Throughout all of this, the corporatist trade unions, politically aligned with the Democratic Party, stood by. The unions took no measures to protect the lives of nurses during the pandemic; they have sabotaged every strike and struggle that has erupted; and they did nothing to mobilize the strength of all health care workers to defend Vaught.
Nurses throughout the country should be proud of their display of solidarity behind RaDonda Vaught. However, this is only the beginning.
The fight against the victimization of Vaught must be developed through the establishment of a network of rank-and-file organizations—organizations controlled by nurses, independent of the pro-corporate trade unions. The mobilization behind Vaught demonstrated that nurses do not need to rely on these organizations, which smother every effort of nurses to fight back.
A network of rank-and-file committees, comprised of nurses and other health care workers in every hospital and health care facility, will coordinate a serious fight for safe staffing, wage increases, mental health services, a massive infusion of funds into the health care system and an end to the subordination of health care to private profit.
Such a struggle will win enormous support in the working class, in the US and throughout the world. The massive mobilization to demand Vaught’s freedom is part of a wave of social and class struggles, including by health care workers, internationally, driven by extreme social inequality, soaring inflation, the consequences of the pandemic and the looming danger of a third world war.
The fight must go forward! On Sunday, May 15, at 2 p.m. EDT, the WSWS Health Care Workers Newsletter is holding an online meeting to discuss the strategy and perspective upon which this fight must be based. We urge all health care workers to register and attend.
Nurse RaDonda Vaught sentenced to three years probation, no jail time
Tennessee Judge Jennifer L. Smith sentenced RaDonda Vaught to three years of probation on Friday, without jail time, for the death of Charlene Murphey, one of her patients, in 2017. Smith decided to reject the vindictive demands of the state district attorney for up to eight years in prison.
The decision not to sentence Vaught to jail was greeted with cheers from nurses who gathered outside the courthouse.
The sentence certainly reflects the fear and concern within the political establishment over the enormous wave of support for Vaught among health care and other workers throughout the US and internationally.
Smith began the hearing Friday morning by noting that the court had been flooded with emails, voicemails and letters on behalf of Vaught.
At the same time, the prosecution and conviction of Vaught sets a dangerous precedent for the criminalization of nurses for mistakes for which the for-profit health care system is itself responsible. Vaught faces three years of probation, has not had her nursing license restored, and has suffered enormous personal and emotional consequences from the unjust prosecution.
David, a nurse from Georgia who came to the rally, responded to the verdict: “This was possibly the best outcome from a worst-case scenario.
“But all of us here know that what the judge really should’ve said was, “We’re sorry RaDonda. Here’s your medical license back. Now learn from your mistake and be a great nurse. We need nurses now more than ever.’
“I mean, she’s not even guilty of anything that the rest of us are not capable of doing under the pressure we all face every day.”
WSWS Health Care Workers Newsletter calls emergency meeting to discuss the way forward after sentencing of RaDonda Vaught
The WSWS Health Care Workers Newsletter has called an online meeting for Sunday, May 15, at 2:00 PM EDT, to discuss the way forward in the fight of nurses following the sentencing of RaDonda Vaught.
The decision not to sentence Vaught to jail time has been welcomed by all nurses. At the same time, Vaught’s conviction has not only caused her to leave the profession, it has set a dangerous precedent for nurses every.
Nurses and health care workers around the US and the world rallied to the defense of Vaught because they know the real causes of tragic medical errors are chronic understaffing, inhuman workloads and the subordination of medical care to corporate profit. Join this meeting to discuss the strategy and perspective upon which this fight must be based.
Nurses speak out at rally in Nashville, Tennessee to defend RaDonda Vaught
Nurses attending the rally before the court in Nashville, Tennessee have made powerful statements defending Vaught and opposing the for-profit health care system.
“The health care system has been falling for years and years. It’s not safe anymore... The system isn’t allowing us anymore to take real care of patients... Nurses are at the end of our ropes, and it’s going to cause change and it’s going to be awesome.”
“When you treat healthcare like a business and the goal is for profits, you sacrifice patient safety. In the hospital that I left, the CEO was getting bonuses for saving money, but the departments were chronically understaffed.”
“We need to stop the subordination of health care to profit because it’s killing our society, driving our society into the ground,” one nurse said. It’s not just one political party, it's the system as a whole. We need to do something about it, we need to change it.”
Tammy, a nurse from Tennessee, said, she was responsible for up to 36 patients at one time during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Med errors happen. We’re human! Now this is going to make med errors not reported.”
“Whatever happens today, it’s going to change nursing forever. I’ve been a nurse for 15 years. As a travel nurse, I’ve worked in 13 different hospitals. There are systematic failures everywhere.”
Laura, a nurse from Pittsburgh, said, “It’s a scary time to be a nurse. We’re always short-staffed, always overcapacity... Healthcare being a business honestly gets in the way of being able to treat people humanely.”
“My heart goes out to RaDonda. This expands out to so many professions: not only pharmacists, paramedics, dentists... I can think of so many people with lives in their hands, and now if an error is caused they too can be charged criminally.”
Nurses rally in Tennessee in advance of RaDonda Vaught sentencing
Nurses have begun gathering at the steps of the Davidson County Criminal Court in Nashville, Tennessee this morning. They are protesting the conviction of Tennessee nurse RaDonda Vaught for negligent homicide for a medical error she committed in 2017. Vaught is due to be sentenced today.
The sentencing hearing is currently underway, and nurses at the rally are listening to the proceedings through a loudspeaker.
Nurses have sent to the WSWS Health Care Workers Newsletter hundreds of statements of support for Vaught in advance of her sentencing, responding to a statement published by the Socialist Equality Party. Nurses are demanding that her sentence be suspended, with no jail time, fines or conditions. Below is selection of statements.
Lila, from New Jersey: “I am RoDonda. We are the same. A mistake can happen to anyone in a facility with improper staffing ratios.”
Marianna, from California: “As a former RN in a teaching hospital, I have seen many mistakes from interns to attending physicians go unreported and undisciplined. Everyone makes mistakes, some serious. I have learned greatly from my own near miss mistakes. Work on the systems that hospitals set up to provide safe patient outcomes instead of contributing to unsafe conditions. Do not make it a criminal case when it was a horrible human mistake of administration of wrong meds.”
Joanne, from Massachusetts: “As a nurse and patient safety manager, I believe it is abhorrent that this nurse is taking all the blame for an institution, licensed by the state and accredited by federal authorities, which failed to insure a safe and supportive environment for nurses, lied and concealed the nurse’s report of medication error, and cowardly hides behind the vulnerability of its overworked nurses.”
Sherry, from Tennessee: “We are standing not only for this nurse, but for all health care workers everywhere.”
Rebekah, from Tennessee: “It is imperative that the public understands the dangerous precedent this verdict—of Rodanda Vaught being convicted of murder with no malicious intent—has in further damaging our already dysfunctional health care system. As a RN with years of nursing experience in both nursing management, consulting, and a wide variety of other direct care positions, I have written a letter to the judge in her case asking for leniency in her sentencing. Radonda should not be going to prison.
“As registered nurses, we want the public to know we try hard to have correct staffing and enough caregivers to meet the needs of our patients and families. When we say ‘no’ to things that are obviously wrong, we are often retaliated against by upper nursing management, as is my current work experience.”
Joyce, from New York: “I am a nursing instructor and am convinced that the only lesson that future nurses are learning from this case is to not report any errors. To allow a prosecutor who has ties to Vanderbilt be in charge is bias. Are we saying that the hospital not reporting the incident is OK because hospital executives had political ties? Pure and simple nonsense. She was thrown under the bus.
“Nurses, once hearing applause and banging of pots/pans calling us heroes, are now scapegoats. Need I remind everyone that for the 20th year in a row nurses were ranked the most trusted profession according to a Gallop poll? Incidentally, lawyers (including prosecutors) are 14th on that list. On the final day of Nurse’s week, may all my peers (you too RaDonda) enjoy and stay strong!”
Sheryl, from Nevada: “Hold workplaces accountable for over stressing nurses and then throwing them under the bus when errors happen, which will. RaDonda was trying to do the right thing in a bad environment. She has suffered enough.”
Jessica, RN: “What’s next, criminal probation for medication errors? Medical malpractice is a civil issue. Nurses deserve better! Please reinstate Ms Vaught’s nursing license and suspend her sentencing.”
Mary: “As a recently retired RN with over 40 years of experience, I strongly believe that Vanderbilt should have been held accountable for this terrible incident. Yes, nurse Vaught made errors, but the system she was working in did nothing to prevent them as they should have done.
“The bottom line is the hospital is mainly interested in their profit margin. I feel fortunate that I never worked in a for-profit hospital. It’s very sad that a relatively new nurse like Vaught wasn’t supported by the system she was employed by, and the profession of nursing will suffer for it.
“I only hope change can come of this travesty of justice.”
Christie, from Georgia: “This nurse made a mistake and admitted to that mistake. She is now being railroaded, but the hospital is not held accountable because they paid $$$ to the family.
“This puts a heavy cloud over all nurses. We go in to care for patients and do our best. A process was set up for how to handle mistakes when they happen. This case takes that process away. Criminal intent has not been proven in the case of RaDonda. Most all nurses know what it is like to work under the conditions she was working under.
“Hold the healthcare system accountable. Hold Vanderbilt accountable if they knowingly allowed their system to remain broken. Forcing nurses to have to override to care for their patients, that is the crime.
Melissa, from Tennessee: “As a healthcare professional for almost 28 years, with most of that at VUMC, I know firsthand the difficulties that exist in the medical system. I stand with RaDonda and will fight for her!”
Jessica, a respiratory therapist in the United States: “RaDonda, what is happening to you is an absolute disgrace! I am a respiratory therapist, and throughout my career we have been understaffed. I have watched nurses and the rest of the hospital workers be just as understaffed.
“I stand in solidarity with you, I have been on the fence about leaving this career full stop, as I have ruined my body in trying to keep up with the hospital’s demands. My heart and soul were broken during this pandemic as I was spit on by people who do not believe in the pandemic, as they were dying from the virus, and my father who decided that FOX News would not lie to him but his daughter would.
“I love taking care of people and still owe a lot of money for my education, but this will not stop with you. We are all at risk of being thrown in prison for being overworked, berated by doctors, managers, patients and their family members for not being able to be everywhere all at once and be expected to go 12+ hours without breaks, food, drinks and bathroom stops, and then possibly making an error that could have been fixed by the administration.
“An administration that does not care about our patients, only the dollars in their pocketbooks. You deserve better, and all hospital workers should stand with you!”
Thousands of nurses protest in Washington, D.C. over crisis in health care
Nearly 10,000 nurses and other health care workers from throughout the US participated in the “DC Nurses March” on Thursday. Nurses marched from the White House to the Capitol building to demand adequate staffing, an end to pay caps for nurses, a stop to violence against health workers and an end to the attempts to scapegoat nurses for the crisis in health care.
The march was held the day before a Tennessee courtroom was due to sentence RaDonda Vaught, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) nurse who was convicted of homicide after making a medication error. Though the march organizers explicitly stated that the march was not “a protest and does not encourage protest movements,” the streets of the US capital were filled with shouts to “stand with RaDonda Vaught,” and other demands.
Discussions with health care workers quickly turned to political issues such as social inequality and CEO pay. “Nurses are scared because of what is going on with RaDonda, [administrations] trying to cap our pay,” explained Carmen, a Tennessee nursing instructor who joined the march. “The CEOs and pharmacies don’t get pay caps; us, the little people do”
While thousands of nurses filled the streets, sidewalks and storefronts were filled with workers eager to show their support for health care workers. “Nurses need to be safe too, protect them at all costs,” said a local nail salon worker who stopped her shift to cheer the passing marchers as they passed.
“Some of these people making decisions for nurses don’t know what it is like to work as a nurse in a hospital,” Jackie, a nurse attending the D.C. rally, said. “I think every nurse can see themselves in the situation RaDonda is in right now. Who as a nurse has not made some kind of mistake? We’re human beings...
“The situations we’re put in, we’re short-staffed. We’re expected to do more and more and more with less and less help in hospitals. You’e more likely to make a mistake... because you’re running around trying to make sure your patients are taken care of with the best of your ability without the resources you need.”
“We all feel we’re RaDonda,” another nurse said. “If you say you haven’t made a medical error, then you’re lying, because we all have. She was honest, and she said, ‘I made a mistake.’ I feel like if she gets anything out of this, a lot of... nurses are going to step away.”
If nurses feel like they can’t take any action without fear of prosecution, she added, “People are going to die.”
Bridgett spoke about the impact of the conviction of RaDonda Vaught. “Most frightening,” she said, “is that in the world of nursing there is ‘just culture,’ and that is when we would self-report errors, because we were the only ones most often who knew we made an error. Now we will be afraid to report errors, which will lead to poor patient outcomes.”
During the pandemic, she added, “They have doubled and tripled our workload, because of what they say is short-staffing. I’ve been a nurse since 1998. We’ve had short-staffing since 1998. They have definitely tripled our workload but hold us at the same accountability as safe staffing.
“They put us and the patients in terrible situations, and now we can be criminally prosecuted for mistakes, without the hospital ever acknowledging they placed us in this situation.”
Bridgett added, “The CEOs have not lost a penny” during the pandemic. “They have actually doubled and quadrupled their pay in some cases... They just keep cutting the staffing, keep cutting staffing, and now we can be arrested for it.”
“Nurse are facing unsafe staffing ratios,” another nurse said, “and our patients are paying the ultimate price. Hospital CEOs are looking at dollar signs and not working conditions for these nurses, and your loved ones are paying the price with their lives.”
Kentucky nurse on the crisis in health care: “Hospital policies should be committed to patient care, not stockholders’ portfolios”
The World Socialist Web Site received this letter from Sheri, a nurse in Kentucky, describing the transformations in the hospitals, the exploitation of nurses and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hospital policies should be committed to patient care and not stockholders’ portfolios or management raises or CEO year-end bonuses.
Nurses worked COVID units for more than two years without proper personal protective equipment. Disposable N95 respirators intended for one use per every isolation patient were suddenly good enough for ten 12-hour shifts.
Holding true to form, on March 1, 2020, laws went into place to protect the money over the health and well-being of essential workers (and by extension the families of these workers), stating that employers could not be held responsible if employees contracted COVID.
How many nurses lost their lives while hospitals went right on making money hand over fist?
Nurses don’t intentionally harm patients. We have been screaming for more than 20 years that health care is in trouble. But those screams always fell on deaf ears. We are dealing with numerous distractions, hurdles, roadblocks, and increasing abuse and legal pitfalls that could be eliminated … if doing so didn’t cut into the CEO’s salary.
The United States is seeing the beginning of a mass exodus from the nursing field. Folks had best start preparing to take care of their emergencies themselves. If changes aren’t made soon, you will all be on your own!
Socialist Equality Party statement: Suspend the sentence of Tennessee nurse RaDonda Vaught! No jail time, fines or penalties!
The Socialist Equality Party in the United States has issued the following statement demanding that Judge Jennifer L. Smith of the Davidson County Criminal Court suspend the sentence of RaDonda Vaught, with no jail time, fines or conditions.
On Friday morning, former Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) nurse RaDonda Vaught will be sentenced in a Tennessee courtroom after being unjustly convicted for a medical error. Vaught faces up to eight years in prison in the case, which would set a new and chilling precedent of sending health care workers to jail for the unsafe practices that exist throughout the health care industry.
Nurses and health care workers around the US and the world have rallied to the defense of Vaught because they know the real causes of tragic medical errors are chronic understaffing, inhuman workloads and the subordination of medical care to corporate profit.
The Socialist Equality Party calls for workers to demand that Judge Jennifer L. Smith of the Davidson County Criminal Court suspend the sentence of Vaught and release her with no jail time, fines or conditions. Workers must further demand the restoration of her nursing license and her immediate reinstatement at VUMC with full back pay and restitution.
From day one, Vaught admitted the mistake she made in dispensing the wrong medication to Charlene Murphey, who tragically died on December 27, 2017. Hospital management, however, misled the state’s medical examiner about the details of Murphey’s death and sought to cover up their lack of safeguards. Vanderbilt University quickly settled with the family for $750,000 with the stipulation that they were not to speak publicly on the matter.
Approximately 10 months later, an anonymous tip to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) led to an investigation. It concluded that VUMC had failed to “mitigate risks associated with medication errors,” which placed patients “in immediate jeopardy and risk of serious injuries and/or death.”
But the hospital’s politically connected executives were never held accountable. Instead, Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk, who is a professor at Vanderbilt, brought charges against Vaught to protect the reputation and profit interests of the university and medical center. During the trial, the district attorney explicitly said he would not examine the hospital’s “system failures” and falsely portrayed Vaught as “someone who considered her patient a disposable person.”