Ohio Doctor charged with murder in 25 patient deaths

by NCN Health And Science Team Posted on June 5th, 2019

William Husel, an Ohio critical care doctor was arrested and charged with murder Wednesday in the deaths of 25 patients in one of the biggest murder cases in state history. Husel turned himself in to Columbus police this morning after a six-month criminal investigation concluded that he purposely caused the deaths of dozens of patients by ordering excessive doses of painkillers over a four-year-period.

A Franklin County grand jury indicted Husel on 25 counts of murder, and the charges were filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday morning. Husel was arrainged at 1:30 p.m. and his bond was set at $1 million by Franklin County Common Please Magistrate Jennifer Cordle.

Mount Carmel health system officials have said Husel ordered excessive doses of painkillers for 35 patients, though they said they do not believe six of those patients died because of the drugs. All but one of those patients were at the former Mount Carmel West hospital. One patient was at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s hospital in Westerville.

The criminal charges involve the 25 victims were given at least 500 micrograms of the opioid fentanyl, a level which O’Brien said was potentially lethal.

“At the 500 microgram level there would be no legitimate medical purpose,” said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien. “The only purpose would be to hasten their deaths.”

Some patients received 1,000 micrograms and two patients received 2,000 micrograms, according to wrongful-death lawsuits filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court and details in Ohio Department of Health inspection reports.

Husel, 43, of Liberty Township near Dublin, was fired Dec. 5 and Mount Carmel alerted authorities.

The health system initially said all of the patients who died were near death, but they later discovered that five patients might have lived if given proper treatment.

Husel is charged in the deaths of Emma Bogan, 75; Jan Marlene Thomas, 65; Norma J. Welch, 85; Joanne S. Bellisari, 69; Ryan Hayes, 39; Timothy Fitzpatrick, 55; Beverlee Ann Schirtzinger, 63; Michael Walters, 57; Robert P. Lee, (the one patient who died at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s hospital); Thomas Mathews; Danny Mollette; Larry Brigner, 70; Janet Kavanaugh, 79; Brandy McDonald, 37; Francis Burke; Charles Longstreth; Jeremia Hodge, 57; James Allen, 80; Troy Allison, 44; Corrinnia Blake, 55; Bonnie Austin, 64; James Nickolas Timmons, 39; Sandra Castle; Rebecca Walls, 75; and Melissa Penix, 82.

O’Brien said none of the 35 or so nurses and pharmacists placed on administrative leave by Mount Carmel will be criminally charged. O’Brien said his office treated them as witnesses.

“Mount Carmel has made and will continue to implement meaningful changes throughout our system to ensure events like these never happen again,” said Ed Lamb, president and CEO of the Mount Carmel Health System. “There is nothing more important to Mount Carmel than the safety of our patients and their trust in us.”

Lamb said O’Brien has requested the hospital make no further comments about Husel’s actions or the investigation.

Husel has not discussed the case with police or the media. One of his attorneys, Richard Blake of Cleveland, has said his doctor did not intend to kill anyone.

When asked by reporters if he knows why Husel ordered the lethal doses of medication O’Brien said “No, I do not know.”

O’Brien said Husel will not face the death penalty because he wasn’t charged with aggravated murder which would have alleged the doctor previously plotted the deaths in advance.

No other hospital employee is reportedly currently under criminal investigation. State boards that oversee pharmacists, nurses and doctors are still investigating actions of other Mount Carmel employees.

At least 30 nurses and pharmacists have been placed on paid administrative leave by the hospital, along with five managers. O’Brien said several of those employees could lose their licenses.

Husel still faces 19 pending wrongful-death lawsuits filed by families of patients who died. At least 8 lawsuits have been settled.

Christine Allison’s husband, Troy, is among those who prosecutors say died at Husel’s hands.

At work this morning at a Dublin car dealership, Christine received a voicemail message from a police detective telling her of the murder charges.

“I have never been so happy for someone to get arrested,” Christine said by phone. “I am shaking. You just don’t understand what this has done to my life. You just don’t understand. No one can.”

Christine called an emergency squad for her 44-year-old husband late on July 14, 2018, because he was hyperventilating. Troy had been feeling poorly for a couple of weeks, dealing with nausea from an antibiotic that he had taken to help his cellulitis. At the hospital, he was given 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl at 1:25 a.m. that day. Three minutes later, less than three hours after Troy had arrived at the emergency room, he was dead.

His death certificate says he died of cardiopulmonary arrest. But his widow has always wanted the doctor charged with murder.

“If I could take any three hours back in my life, it would be those three hours,” Christine said. “That doctor destroyed my life.”

She said in hopes that Husel would eventually be charged, she has been stockpiling her vacation days so attend court hearings. She plans to not miss even one.

It took police and prosecutors months to comb through medical records to try and determine what levels of fentanyl could be medically unnecessary, O’Brien said. They considered medical condition, weight and tolerance for opiates.

Investigators consulted with two primary medical experts, one from Ohio and one from out of state, but O’Brien declined to identify them.

Authorities found the appropriate dose to start with for patients is 50 micrograms, O’Brien said.

In several instances, Husel would prescribe excessive doses of fentanyl shortly after telling family members their loved on was brain-dead, according to attorneys and families.

The health inspection reports indicated that many of the high doses of the painkiller were accessed through the use of emergency overrides that sidestepped warnings and the pre-approval from pharmacists that is normally required.

Husel used his authority, charm and medical pedigree as a former doctor at the Cleveland Clinic to deceive or convince nurses that his decisions were sound, some current and former hospital staff members said.

Husel has been suspended from practicing medicine by the State Medical Board and now also is at risk of losing his medical license.

Husel’s actions became public soon after Mount Carmel fired him in December and met with O’Brien’s office. The prosecutor’s office contacted Columbus police, who immediately began on the investigation, O’Brien said.

O’Brien said Mount Carmel and the state medical, nursing and pharmacy boards were all cooperate throughout the investigation that was led by Columbus police
detectives Anne Pennington and William Gillette.

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