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Should Vanderbilt Leadership Be Held Responsible?

Does Appearance of Conflict of Interest Exist For Vanderbilt?

With over 26,000 employees, Vanderbilt and its healthcare facilities are the largest employers in Nashville. Bringing a criminal prosecution against a VUMC nurse is not an everyday event.

Glenn R. Funk
Law School portraits
Vanderbilt University
photo: Anne Rayner; VU

A reader has offered the view that the appearance of a conflict of interest exists for the prosecution. Vanderbilt Adjunct Professor of Law Glenn Funk is also Nashville’s District Attorney General. He’s in charge of the office prosecuting Nurse Vaught while he also is on the factulty at Vanderbilt University Law School.

It’s only natural to wonder if Vanderbilt, an extremely influential political entity, gave a quiet “thumbs up” behind closed doors to proceed with a prosecution against one of its nurses. One can reasonably speculate that Vanderbilt’s legal, public affairs and crisis management team may have strategized that blaming the nurse will take the heat off the hospital.

Internet Healthcare Newsletter Raises Questions

However, some have said that the hospital’s actions in covering up what happened and failing to comply with state law should also be prosecuted. Beckers Hospital Review, a medical newsletter that is widely read by healthcare professionals, offered a recent Viewpoint.

The headline: If Vanderbilt nurse is arrested for homicide, leadership should be too.

The story featured the opinion of Dr. Zubin Damania, an internet medical personality known as ZDoggMD. Dr. Damania has a large internet following. He noted that the incident was “a tragedy on every level.”

“This is a shameful act to put this woman, who is already paying the price for her mistake, in prison,” Dr. Damania said in one of his video blog posts “If you are going to do that, you should put all of the administrators at Vanderbilt — who are overseeing her, who are overseeing safety, who are responsible for communicating with CMS and with the patient — they should all go to jail.”

Unlawful Vanderbilt Hospital Actions Appear Intentional

To go back a step, the CMS Statement of Deficiencies didn’t indicate that the nurse’s actions were intentional. However, the CMS report provides testimony that does indicate that hospital staff’s actions were intentional and unlawful. First, a physician appeared to knowingly mislead the Medical Examiner’s office about the death of Charlene Murphey. Second, the hospital administration intentionally withheld notifying the State Department of Health about the death of Charlene Murphey.

Prosecutorial Pass for The Institution But Not The Nurse?

Is the large institution being given a prosecutorial pass while the nurse bears all the prosecutorial zeal?

Case May Now Receive Extensive National Press Coverage

In any event, by prosecuting the nurse under criminal charges the case will receive extensive media coverage. There are roughly 2,400,000 nurses who work in hospitals. Their voices will be heard! Hopefully, hospital safety will be advanced.

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L Haller

The idea of a hospital shifting the entire blame for a “never” event on a nurse or other employee of the hospital is not a new concept. It enables them to shift the focus of the public eye onto an individual left holding the bag for a cascade of poor decisions that start at the top. Most often, they are decisions that will save money for the hospital at the expense of patient safety. Low staffing that does not meet the hospital’s daily staffing requirement increases the need for staff to perform duties in areas in which they are not… Read more »

Emily Paterson

Excellent points—Vanderbilt’s administration didn’t take care of another death with complete transparency either. They seem to be problematic.

[…] Should Vanderbilt Leadership Be Held Responsible? Blaming nurses for med errors may seem obvious when one occurs, yet failing to look at underlying organizational issues keeps the cycle of mistakes going. […]

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