Families who believed their loved ones passing was "God's will" were horrified to find probable malpractice.
An intensive care doctor has been accused of prescribing excessive and potentially fatal doses of opioids to patients who were near death and now faces dozens of murder charges.
William Husel was charged with 25 counts of murder, along with alleged malpractice, after he voluntarily submitted himself to Columbus authorities. The case will also question how the 30 or more members of hospital staff who administered the overdoses failed to raise concerns.
NBC News reports that Husel, 43, was employed with the Mount Carmel Health System, one of the largest in central Ohio, from 2015 – 2018. The doctor was initially suspended from duty in late November of 2018, and was formally fired two weeks later.
The motive behind Husel’s alleged prescriptions of high doses of the painkiller Fentanyl is still unclear. Medical experts say there is no legitimate medical reason for prescribing doses higher than 50 -100 micrograms. Husel had been found to have prescribed between 500 – 2,000 micrograms to patients.
Husel has pleaded not guilty and his attorney, Richard Blake, maintains that, “this is not a murder case.” He told NBC:
“I can assure you there was never any attempt to euthanize anyone by Dr. Husel. At no time did he ever have the intent to euthanize anyone.”
After noting that Husel — whose bond was set at $1 million — has surrendered his passport, Blake added that Husel “wants to clear his name at trial.” Husel could face 15 years to life in prison for each of the 25 counts.
Prosecutor Ron O’Brien commented:
“I’ve been a prosecutor for 22 years and have not seen a 25-count indictment during those years.”
He went on to explain that the investigation took so long because investigators had to familiarize themselves with the various medical roles in the hospital in order to conclude whether Husel was violating standard protocol.
As many of the patients who were overdosed were not alert, or in a position to be affected by pain, “there would be no legitimate medical reason to administer” the potentially fatal doses of Fentanyl, O’Brien said. Regardless of the criminal charges, Husel faces at least 19 wrongful-death lawsuits, with another eight which have been settled out of court already.
In one suit, the attorney for the family of Melissa Penix, an 82-year-old woman who went to Mount Carmel West for stomach pains, said she was given 2,000 micrograms of Fentanyl. Melissa died about five minutes after the dose was administered. The attorney explained that Husel told the family that Melissa was brain-dead and encouraged them to agree to end her care.
Another lawsuit on behalf of Amy Pfaff’s mother, Beverlee Schirtzinger, 63, says that Beverlee died 11 hours after arriving at the hospital for a liver biopsy. Pfaff’s lawyers say Husel ordered 500 micrograms of Fentanyl for her. In an interview with NBC, Amy said:
“The way we coped was [to say] ‘It was God’s will. She’s now with dad and we’re okay with that.’ Then we find out that it wasn’t necessarily God’s will.”
Although nurses and pharmacists followed Husel’s orders, the doctor remains the main focus of the criminal investigation. The Mount Carmel Health System and some pharmacists and nurses, however, have been named in the various civil suits. It remains unclear how Husel was able to circumvent the system which requires him to order medications through the hospital’s in-house pharmacy, or how the nurses were convinced to administer such dangerous treatment.
Included among the hospital staffers to be faced with civil suits is Husel’s wife, Mariah Baird, who is said to have administered 800 micrograms of painkillers to a 65-year-old woman.
Hospital officials said earlier this year that 30 employees have been placed on leave in light of the investigation, while 18 more with ties to the case had already left their employment. They have said they would be “open and honest about what happened,” and have installed safeguards to prevent a recurrence.