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Vanderbilt University Medical Center Under Investigation for Deadly Medication Error

On December 26, 2017, an unidentified patient was accidentally injected with a paralyzing anesthetic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The hospital is under investigation for not being upfront with the Davison County Medical Examiner about the deadly medication error.

The patient was being treated at Vanderbilt for a subdural hematoma, also known as bleeding in the brain, and was suffering from headaches and vision loss. Even with those symptoms, the patient was awake, alert, and improving.

On that Tuesday, the patient was taken to the radiology department for a full body scan. Because of their claustrophobia, the doctor ordered a dose of Versed be administered. Versed is a common anti-anxiety medication. When the nurse went to fill the prescription they could not locate the medication, so they overrode the system and accidentally selected vecuronium.

Vecuronium is a powerful drug that is used to keep patients still during surgery. It is also included in the drug cocktail used to execute death row inmates.

The patient was given the medication and left in the machine for as long as 30 minutes, when someone realized they weren’t breathing. Another nurse discovered the error that had been made. The patient was treated for another day before doctors determined it was futile and was taken off life support. It’s suspected the medication caused the patient to lose consciousness, suffer cardiac arrest, and sustain permanent brain damage.

The death was reported to the medical examiner’s office. At the time, the reporting doctor told the office the patient died from the brain bleed and that any medication errors were “hearsay.” As a result, the examiner’s office did not investigate the death.

When the deadly error was discovered, federal investigators questioned Vanderbilt officials and the medical examiner’s office. Vanderbilt officials said they were uncertain if the medication error had anything to do with the patient’s death. The medical examiner’s office, however, said Vanderbilt should have informed them about any error involving paralyzing medicine.

As a result of the death and the discovery of the error, the hospital’s Medicare reimbursement status was at stake. The Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services planned to discontinue payments unless assurances were made that the hospital had taken steps to prevent similar errors in the future. The hospital submitted a corrective plan, which was accepted.

If you’ve been injured because of a healthcare professional’s mistakes, or wrongfully lost a loved one as a result of a medication error, our lawyers are prepared to represent you. We understand how difficult it can be to go up against a hospital while trying to recover from their mistakes. We’re here for you. Contact us today to learn about your legal rights and options.


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