COLUMBUS, Ohio – Five hospital patients who died after getting potentially fatal doses of pain medication may have been given those drugs when there still was a chance to improve their conditions with treatment, an Ohio health system said Friday as its investigation continued.
The Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System said it is notifying families of those five people, who were among dozens of patients that received excessive doses ordered by one of its doctors.
It also found one more patient who received a potentially fatal dose, bringing that total to at least 29 patients over several years, mostly at Mount Carmel West Hospital in Columbus. It has said six other patients received doses but that the medication wasn't likely the cause of those deaths.
The findings have raised questions about whether hospital staff wrongly used drugs to hasten deaths intentionally or possibly illegally without the patients' families knowing.
"These events are heartbreaking, unacceptable and inconsistent with the values and care processes of Mount Carmel," CEO Ed Lamb said in a statement Friday that echoed the hospital's previous apologies and pledges to ensure the situation doesn't occur again.
The hospital said the overdoses were ordered by critical-care doctor William Husel, who was fired in December after Mount Carmel received reports of concerns and began investigating.
Husel and the hospital now face at least 19 related wrongful-death lawsuits alleging patients were negligently or intentionally killed. Some families also question whether they were misled by hospital employees about the graveness of the patients' conditions.
Mount Carmel said it put 23 other employees on leave , including nurses and pharmacists who administered and approved medications. It also said it has changed its medication protocols to prevent similar situations.
Husel had worked at Mount Carmel for five years.
His lawyers have declined to comment on the allegations, and they're seeking to halt proceedings in some of the lawsuits against him pending the ongoing investigation by local authorities.
The State Medical Board has suspended his license , but no criminal charges have been announced. Records show the board hasn't previously disciplined Husel.
He invoked his right against self-incrimination when he was questioned for the board, including when asked if he purposefully ordered excessive doses to end patients' lives, according to a board notification.
The affected patients identified by relatives or in litigation so far include men and women who were treated for various ailments. They ranged in age from 39 to 85.
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