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'The shortage will become worse': Conviction of former Tennessee nurse sparks fear of impact on workforce

One longtime nurse practitioner in Louisville worries the guilty verdict for RaDonda Vaught will only intensify the existing shortage of medical staff.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Nurses in Louisville fear an existing shortage of medical workers will only get worse after a former Tennessee nurse was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the accidental death of a patient years ago.

RaDonda Vaught faces up to eight years in prison after she was convicted by a jury in Nashville last week. She's previously admitted to making a medical error officials say led to the death of an impaired 75-year-old woman, although Vaught pleaded not guilty.

Longtime nurse practitioners like Oluwasegun Abe see the troubling staffing trend with their own eyes. Abe helps older patients at the Essex Nursing and Rehab Center in Southwest Jefferson County.

He's amongst many who fear Vaught's conviction will only intensify the shortage of nurses.

"It's sad honestly. People will not want to be nurses," Abe said. "People will not want to be nurses when they know that everyday mistakes can define the rest of your life."

Abe said he feels for the life lost, but believes the decision sets a precedent that'll discourage nurses from acting with confidence, and honesty, which he says will ultimately hurt the care patients receive.

"We're going to practice with too much caution," he said.

Abe said when too much time is taken in caring for each patient, especially when working in fear of the result, it can lead to tentative decision-making and lower quality of overall service.

Meanwhile, retired prosecutor for the Commonwealth Attorney's Office Toni Stringer said these kinds of criminal convictions will continue to be rare for cases like Vaught's. She believed Vaught's circumstances were unique, with repeated errors of complacency most nurses wouldn't make.

The increased need for medical care during the pandemic has already strained available staff. Many have left the field of work, and even Kentucky's governor has searched for ways to better incentivize people to becomes nurses.

"The Commonwealth and the nation are experiencing a dire shortage," Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY) said in Dec. 2021.

A late 2021 survey by the Kentucky Nurses Association showed 25% of nurses reporting being likely or extremely likely to leave their jobs in the months to come.

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