Ohio doctor under investigation after dozens of patient overdose deaths

Columbus, Ohio, Feb 20, 2019 / 04:36 pm (CNA).- A doctor at a Catholic health system in Ohio has been fired after being accused of prescribing excessive doses of drugs to at least 30 ailing patients, some near death and some not. The accusations have also prompted the suspension of 20 hospital staff and over a dozen lawsuits alleging wrongful death.

Mount Carmel Health System fired Dr. William Husel from his job on Nov. 21, 2018, accusing him of prescribing excessive pain medicine to 34 patients in the intensive care unit. All of the patients died over the period of 2015-2018, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

“We are sorry for this tragedy, and we will continue to investigate how we responded to this report and whether there is any other information that should have led us to investigate sooner into Dr. Husel’s practices,” Edward Lamb, president and CEO of Mount Carmel Health System, said Jan. 24.

In a previous Jan. 14 statement, Lamb said the doctor’s actions were “unacceptable and inconsistent with the values and practices of Mount Carmel, regardless of the reasons the actions were taken.”

“We take responsibility for the fact that the processes in place were not sufficient to prevent these actions from happening,” he said.

The hospital said it received a formal report about the apparent behavior on Oct. 25 of last year. An employee reported the behavior out of safety concerns. The hospital said it knows of three deaths that took place from the time it received the report about Husel to the time it fired him.

Of the 34 patients who received overdoses of the drugs under Husel, 33 died at Mount Carmel West primary care hospital in Columbus, while one died at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s in Westerville. The hospital believes a few of these deaths were not caused by the overdoses.

Mount Carmel Health System is the second-largest non-profit Catholic healthcare system in the state. It is a member of the Michigan-based system Trinity Health.

Husel treated patients taken to the ICU for various reasons, including respiratory problems, infections, and gallstones. Some families said their loved ones were not terminally ill and they would have questioned the use of the medication administered under the doctor’s orders.

The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office and Columbus police are investigating but no formal charges have been filed, NBC News reports.

The Ohio State Medical Board suspended Husel’s medical license in January.

Many of the details of the alleged victims come from lawsuits, court filings, and plaintiffs’ attorneys.

In one case, lawyers with the Leeseburg & Valentine law firm said, the doctor ordered a large dose of fentanyl – an opioid – and midazolam – a sedative – to be administered to 57-year-old Michael Walters just minutes before the patient died.

Walters had resided at a nursing home for several years after a stroke. He was admitted to the hospital on Oct. 6, 2017 suffering from respiratory failure and brain swelling, and was placed on a breathing machine. Late on Oct. 10, his family was persuaded to change his status to do-not-resuscitate. He died the next day.

The family members of Janet Kavanaugh, 79, have filed a lawsuit against the doctor and the hospital. They said she received a lethal dose of fentanyl and pronounced dead 18 minutes later.

Lawyer Gerry Leeseberg, who filed the suit on behalf of Kavanaugh’s estate, said she had not consented to the high dose. He was not aware whether she had previously been given the drug for pain relief, NBC News reports.

“We’re concerned some of these families were misled into granting a do-not-resuscitate order,” Leeseberg said.

CNA sought comment from the Diocese of Columbus but did not receive a response by deadline.

The hospital released a statement and an apology on Jan. 14, the same day a patient filed a lawsuit. It removed 20 employees from patient care pending the results of its investigation, including nurses who administered the drugs and pharmacists.

Lamb, the health system head, said Jan. 24 that based on the initial report, the hospital system “should have begun a more expedited process to investigate and consider immediate removal of Dr. Husel from patient care at that time.”

More patients might be discovered as the investigation continues, he said.

According to Lamb, clinicians must provide “complete and clinically accurate” information about a patient’s condition, potential treatments, likelihood to recover and options for care. The investigation will determine whether this was the practice for the treatment of each of the patients.

“These events are heartbreaking,” said Lamb. “We are committed to being open and honest about what happened and what we are doing to ensure it never happens again.”

He pledged to respect the privacy and rights of those involved in accordance with privacy laws and to continue to cooperate with law enforcement and other relevant authorities.

For many of the patients, the doctor was able to use emergency overrides to bypass safeguards in the medication system. He was also able to avoid required pharmacist pre-approval.

A review from the Ohio Department of Health faulted the two hospitals for failing to ensure a system to prevent overrides that access large doses of “central nervous system” medications, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

The reports have already caused federal authorities to tell two hospitals in the health system they were non-compliant with Medicare standards for pharmaceuticals. They warned that the hospitals’ Medicare provider agreement would terminate on Feb. 24. Hospital leaders later agreed to a corrective plan and state oversight to ensure compliance.

 

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