The recent ruling in Nashville, convicting former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse RaDonda Vaught of criminally negligent homicide and impaired adult abuse, sets a dangerous precedent for nurses and other essential healthcare workers.

At a time when frontline healthcare workers are pausing to breathe after a grueling two years of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, this ruling leaves nurses and other healthcare professionals further isolated and unprotected.

Substantial research has documented that a “Just Culture” approach leads to more reporting of errors and a better culture of safety in hospitals. This approach acknowledges that human errors are inevitable and that punitive approaches should be reserved for those who have willingly caused harm. Punishment leads to a culture of blame, and thus deters the reporting or acknowledgment of errors. The conviction of our colleague, RaDonda Vaught, will have a chilling effect on the culture of safety in hospitals. The message this sends is that healthcare workers are expected to be infallible – an impossible task.

We stand in solidarity with our nurse colleagues who have been on the frontlines caring for our communities. Nurses and other frontline providers cannot continue to work in unsustainable environments while hospital administrators are absolved of any responsibility to employees.