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The RaDonda Vaught trial Part Two – Will there be a chilling effect on self-reporting for nurses?

In our last post, we reviewed the outcome of the trial and sentencing of Tennessee nurse RaDonda Vaught. Vaught was tried and convicted of criminally negligent homicide and gross neglect of an impaired adult in March of this year.

Although the judge showed leniency in sentencing, nurses around the country have warned of the long-lasting effects this case may have on nursing as a profession. This includes the fact that nurses may hesitate to self-report errors in the future for fear of incriminating themselves. Some groups are pushing for state legislation around the country to protect nurses from criminal prosecution for medical errors. Until then, however, nurses must abide by their state’s self-reporting laws. The question is whether they will do so if they could face criminal charges.

Self-reporting laws in Kentucky and South Carolina

Under Kentucky Revised Statute 216B.165, health care providers have a duty to report any problem that may threaten the quality of care or safety of a patient, or the general safety of the facility. The same law protects those who report a problem from retaliation.

A similar statute in South Carolina is found in the Nurse Practice Act, Chapter 33. This law focuses on a general requirement to report any incident. Though it does not specify self-reporting, it does not exclude it. In addition, employers must report certain incidents.

The chilling effect

If you are a nurse in South Carolina or Kentucky, you may think twice in the future about self-reporting or reporting a colleague or subordinate for fear of drastic repercussions. Such a chilling effect could impact patient safety in the future. Nurses are now subject to criminal punishment on top of losing their job, suspension or revocation of their license, a permanent mark on their record and monetary fines or penalties. The fact that nurses are already in a shortage, with many facilities heavily understaffed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, heightens the impact of this decision.

A silver lining

Some positive changes may come from this incident. For example, at least one hospital has moved paralytic drugs out of automated medicine cabinets and into separate, more secured areas. Others now prevent any overrides to automated medicine cabinets without more significant measures. Many facilities may also begin to make certain that scanners used for scanning patient wristbands are available anywhere non-urgent medications may be administered. The question is whether these positive moves outweigh the negative impact of the Vaught case.

Understand your options and obligations

When you face a difficult situation as a nurse and don’t know your options or legal obligations, you should consider turning to an experienced nursing licensure attorney. Your nursing licensure defense attorney can help you determine whether you must report the incident and explain to you the ramifications of your decision.