Families of lost loved ones who received care from a Mount Carmel doctor accused of ordering potentially fatal doses of painkillers for intensive-care patients are again grappling with the grief that came with the deaths.
This week, Mount Carmel Health System officials announced Dr. William Husel was fired after an investigation showed that he had ordered “significantly excessive” doses of pain medication for 27 near-death patients from 2015 to 2018. All have died.
>>Complete coverage: Find out more on this on-going investigation at Mt. Carmel
Husel, 43, of Liberty Township near Dublin, was an intensive-care doctor with the Columbus-based health system since 2013. Mount Carmel also placed six pharmacists and 14 nurses on administrative leave as the system continues to investigate.
Columbus attorney David Shroyer, who is representing at least two families involved, said the families are wondering why, questioning whether they could have done something and beginning the grieving process anew.
“It’s like tearing a scab from an old wound,” said Shroyer. “You’ve got to start the whole process over with a different version of facts.”
Shroyer has filed a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of David Austin of the West Side, alleging that Husel ordered an excessive, fatal dose of the powerful opioid fentanyl for Austin's wife, Bonnie, at Mount Carmel West hospital in September.
David Austin told The Dispatch on Tuesday night that there was a small nagging thought in his mind that something wasn't right with his wife's death. Yet, when he received a call from Mount Carmel in December telling him his wife had been given an overdose of drugs, he was dumbfounded and shocked.
Attorney Gerald Leeseberg, also of Columbus, has filed suit in the deaths of two Mount Carmel West patients. He said learning that health-care providers who were expected to take care of a loved one apparently made a life-ending decision casts the death in a different life.
“The overwhelming reaction at this point in time, including my own, is shock. This is beyond the pale,” he said. “Everybody's in shock and in a bit of disbelief that this did happen ... and it happened over and over again, and it happened over a long period of time and it happened involving a number of people.”
At least three lawsuits alleging wrongful death, medical negligence and other wrongful acts have been filed by Leeseberg and Shroyer. The latest, Leeseberg's office said, was filed Wednesday evening in the July 15, 2018, death of 44-year-old Franklinton resident Troy Allison, who had been admitted to Mount Carmel West on July 14. The suit says Allison died at 1:28 a.m., shortly after receiving a lethal dose of morphine ordered by Husel.
The lawsuits, filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, all name Mount Carmel Health System and Husel as defendants. Pharmacist Talon Schroyer, 31, of Marysville, who allegedly approved and dispensed dosages ordered by Husel, is named in two. Two of the suits also list one nurse each, saying they administered the doses. Additionally, two suits allege other hospital employees, for now identified as "John Does," were involved.
Mount Carmel has turned over information about Husel to law enforcement, and Columbus police and the Franklin County prosecutor’s office are investigating.
Meanwhile, another alleged victim has been identified as Thelma J. Kyer, 83, of Grove City, who died at Mount Carmel West on March 11, 2017.
Kyer had been in ill health, and her family had her removed from life support, said Adam R. Todd, an attorney with Florey Todd Ltd. who is also Kyler's grandson.
Todd told The Dispatch on Wednesday night that one of Kyer's daughters was contacted Dec. 28 by Mount Carmel and told that Kyer had been given an overdose of fentanyl. Todd said he is waiting to receive medical records from Mount Carmel before he proceeds with filing a wrongful-death lawsuit.
The three civil lawsuits already filed seek monetary damages, but attorney Shroyer said there is a cap on how much families can collect in certain medical malpractice damages. He said there are no limits on wrongful-death damages, but that such cases generally must be filed within two years of a death unless a defendant chooses not to seek that limitation.
Still, in these types of cases, Shroyer said, clients aren't focused on a payout.
"I've never had a client who didn’t say 'I want to bring a case because I don’t want anybody to go through what I went through. I want to make a difference,'" he said.
The biggest concern now, Shroyer said, is how this could happen to 27 families without being discovered sooner by Mount Carmel officials.
Leeseberg said people who have contacted him don't want fatal overdoses by health-care providers to happen to anyone else, and they want to know how long it went on, how many people might have been involved and how someone could have gotten away with it.
"Everybody's primary concern is to first find out what happened and why and what was going through these people's heads. How did they justify doing what they were doing?" Leeseberg said. "We've gotta find out what prompted this situation to develop to begin with, No. 1, so that we can address the human behavior and the motivations behind the people that chose to act this way."
Ed Lamb, president and chief executive of Mount Carmel Health, said in a Monday statement that the system has changed processes as a result of their investigation but still has more to do in the process of building a high-reliability organization.
"We take responsibility for the fact that the processes in place were not sufficient to prevent these actions from happening," he said. "We’re doing everything to understand how this happened and what we need to do to ensure it never happens again."
Dispatch Reporter Jim Woods contributed to this story.