Doctor who ordered outsize pain meds kept working for weeks

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A doctor who ordered excessive and possibly fatal doses of pain medicine for dozens of hospital patients kept working for four weeks after concern was raised last fall, an Ohio health care system acknowledged Thursday.

Three patients died during those weeks after getting excessive doses ordered by Dr. William Husel, the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System said in a statement. The health system noted that it "should have begun a more expedited process to investigate and consider immediate removal" of the since-fired intensive care doctor after a report about him was received Oct. 25.

Mount Carmel also said it now knows of more affected patients — at least 34 over the past few years. It initially said that affected patients were near death and their families had decided to stop lifesaving measures. But now, it says it's investigating whether some patients got excessive doses while they might still have had opportunity to improve with treatment.

Questions about that have been raised by some of the families who are suing Husel , the hospital and other medical staff who approved or administered the drugs. They've also questioned whether hospital employees misled them about their loved ones' conditions.

The health system said it's investigating whether the families received accurate information about patients' conditions, potential treatments and their likelihood to recover.

"We are committed to being open and honest about what happened and what we are doing to ensure it never happens again," the statement said.

Husel worked for Mount Carmel for five years. His lawyers haven't commented.

The allegations have raised questions about whether drugs were used to hasten deaths intentionally or possibly illegally. At least four wrongful-death lawsuits allege that patients died because hospital employees either negligently or intentionally gave them inappropriately large doses of the powerful painkiller fentanyl, unbeknownst to the patients' families.

Mount Carmel said 28 of the 34 patients received doses that were potentially fatal, and six got doses that were larger than necessary to provide comfort "but were likely not the cause of their deaths."

The hospital previously apologized and said it put six pharmacists and 14 nurses on paid leave pending further investigation. It said Thursday that it anticipates more affected patients might be discovered as the review proceeds.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Health is investigating on behalf of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Franklin County prosecutor confirmed a local investigation.

Husel's work also is under internal review by the Cleveland Clinic, where he was a supervised resident from 2008 to 2013. The medical center said its preliminary review found his prescribing practices were "consistent with appropriate care."

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Thursday called for the State Medical Board to immediately suspend Husel's license.

Asked about Yost's comments, medical board spokeswoman Tessie Pollock said the board can't disclose confidential investigative information. But she noted that it works with the attorney general's office in high-profile cases and coordinates with authorities about the timing of administrative actions to protect the integrity of possible criminal investigations.

Records show the board hasn't previously taken disciplinary action against Husel. It doesn't disclose whether it has received complaints if no formal disciplinary action is taken.

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