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Former nurse charged with reckless homicide for drug error

Sometimes medical malpractice is considered a criminal offense. That's the case with a former nurse who worked at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She is facing a reckless homicide charge for allegedly giving a 75-year-old patient the wrong medication. The woman suffered cardiac arrest and was left brain dead at the end of 2017. She was removed from life support shortly afterward.

The Davidson County District Attorney's Office, which recently announced the indictment, says that the nurse overrode safeguards in place for the electronic medicine-dispensing cabinets at the medical center. That's why they believe a criminal charge is warranted.

The 35-year-old woman is currently free on bail. She has a court date later this month.

A spokesperson for the district attorney's (DA) office says that their decision to prosecute stemmed from the investigation into the death conducted by the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). He said, "As you could tell from the CMS report, there were safeguards in place that were overridden. By the definition of ‘reckless,' the defendant's actions justify the charge."

The patient was supposed to be given a sedative called Versed. Instead, the nurse gave her vecuronium. That's a strong paralytic medication that's used to keep patients from moving while they're undergoing surgery. It's also among the drugs used when prison inmates are executed.

Medications in the dispensing cabinets at Vanderbilt and other facilities are operated via a computer system. The staff member searches for the medication they need on this system. According to the CMS report, the nurse couldn't find Versed, so she used an override feature in the system, typed in "VE" and got the wrong medication -- apparently not reading the name on it.

Vecuronium, which is a neuromuscular blocking agent, has been found to have a "well-documented history of causing catastrophic injuries or death when used in error," according to an article published the year prior to this woman's death. It causes a person's muscles to become frozen and eventually prevents them from breathing.

Whether an instance of medical malpractice rises to the level of a criminal offense or not, victims and surviving loved ones may be able to take legal action in civil court against the medical provider and possibly the facility where the alleged malpractice occurred. An experienced attorney can provide more information and assistance.

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