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Lawsuits against Ohio doctor accused of fatally overprescribing fentanyl piling up

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By LU ANN STOIA, WSYX/WTTE

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CIRCA via WSYX/WTTE) — A cold-case homicide unit is investigating a case involving a doctor accused of ordering potentially fatal doses of pain medication to patients who were near death and receiving intensive care.

Lawsuits continued to pile up against Mount Carmel and Dr. William Husel over allegations that several patients were given potentially deadly doses of pain meds.

Jan Thomas was identified as one of the patients attorneys allege was killed by a dose of Fentanyl on March, 2015. The firm Colley, Shroyer & Abraham Co., said they have been retained by Thomas's family. A lawsuit was filed Tuesday, January 22nd on behalf of her family.

Thomas was rushed to the hospital on March 1, 2015 after she was found unresponsive at home. According to family lawyers, Husel told the family she was on life support and it could be withdrawn. It's believed Husel then ordered an 800 microgram dose of fentanyl for Thomas. She died 31 minutes after it was administered.

The family says they were led to believe she would die of natural causes if removed from life support and, according to the lawsuit, Husel never told them he intended to hasten her death.

James George Allen was just 20 minutes shy of his 81st birthday when he died in the Mount Carmel West intensive care unit on on May 28th, 2018. His family says he died less than half an hour after receiving a large dose of fentanyl ordered by Dr. Husel, and they are preparing a lawsuit.

The family released a statement saying "Dealing with Jim's death when it happened was a difficult process for our family. Having to live through that death again, in this context is all the more painful. Our family seeks answers to the difficult questions everyone is asking, and we hope to find out what really happened through this process."

Allen is the seventh patient identified as potentially getting a lethal dose of fentanyl.

Another wrongful death lawsuit was filed by the Allison family Thursday, January 17th. The family says Husel was responsible for the death of 44-year-old Troy Allison this past July. The lawsuit alleges Husel prescribed a deadly amount of morphine to Allison. It also argued that the nurse who administered the drug and the pharmacist should have known better.

The Leeseberg & Valentine law firm say they currently represent 12 of the 27 families involved in wrongful death lawsuits, but did not name the other clients because they have not publicly filed yet, but have agreed to look over their cases.

"Nobody told me anything; he was in the hospital for three hours with organ failure," Christine Allison said Thursday afternoon.

Troy and Christine Allison were married 11 years, were together for 18 years, and have two children together.

Attorneys say Troy Allison, died July 15, 2018 and records show he died from 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl, but his wife was told he was given morphine.

"Everything just seemed off. I just couldn't believe what was happening...it was just weird," Allison said. "I was talking to him and said I'll see you there in a minute and the next time I see him, he's dead."

Attorneys say the family was encouraged to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order shortly after Allison arrived at the hospital. "They were given the information that he was going to be brain dead even if resuscitated...we're not seeing the proper evidence to support that conclusion," Attorney Craig Tuttle said.

Christine Allison says the hospital called her after Christmas to tell her police were investigating and the doctor and other staff involved in her husband's case were fired. Mount Carmel Health Systems says they weren't aware of all the patient deaths until October of 2018, and they began contacting the families after finishing an internal investigation.

"He actually seemed very kind and very compassionate, and, um, I trusted him," Allison said. "My husband did not have a terminal illness."

In an earlier lawsuit, David Austin said Husel was responsible for the death of his wife, Bonnie. Austin's attorney said she was given a deadly dose of fentanyl this past September.

“Something’s not right. This guy has got to be crazy. What did he do to my wife?! This guy has to be crazy!" said Austin. "I gotta find out what the heck's going on. This can't happen again.”

Austin was sobbing as he shared his story.

Mount Carmel responded to the lawsuits by saying in a video that the hospital has been doing everything it can to understand how this happened. The hospital said it will take measures to prevent similar instances from happening.

"The actions instigated by this doctor were unacceptable and inconsistent with the values and practices of Mount Carmel. Regardless of the reasons the actions were taken we take responsibility for the fact that the processes in place were not sufficient to prevent these actions from happening," said Mount Carmel President and CEO Ed Lamb. Lamb said the internal investigation was completed and police have been notified of the findings.

Mount Carmel said in their video statement about the case that families had told the hospital to "stop all life-saving measures." Lawyers say that may have happened in other cases, but their clients wanted doctors to keep fighting to save their loved ones.

"Even assuming it was a legitimate recommendation to put in place a DNR or withdraw life support or simply put in place comfort measures that in no way shape or form is a spring board to somebody coming in with a 1,000microgram of fentanyl and terminating their life," Attorney Gerry Leeseberg said.

Husel was a doctor with Mount Carmel for five years. The hospital said he ordered "excessive and potentially fatal doses of pain meds" for at least 27 patients who were near death. Twenty other staff members, including nurses who administered the medication, and pharmacists have been "removed" from the hospital too.

Attorneys with Leeseberg & Valentine say the cases wouldn't turn into a class action lawsuit, because it deals with wrongful deaths and everybody's claims are different.

Those with concerns about care at Mount Carmel should visit the hospital's website here.

ABC6/FOX28 reached out to the involved parties.

An attorney for Dr. Husel said via email: "Neither Dr. Husel nor his counsel have any comment."

A Mt. Carmel Health spokesperson did respond via email with this statement:

"We are aware of at least 27 cases and, based on what this doctor did to these near-death patients, we understand that some of these families may be considering legal action. We’ve apologized to these families, we’ve apologized publicly, and we’re continuing to cooperate with law enforcement and other authorities. We’re also working to build additional safeguards so that a tragedy like this never happens again."

"Imagine if you are a patient’s family getting a call from the hospital, the people you entrusted your loved one's care to. They are raising questions about whether there was an intentional overdose of drugs leading to terminate your family member’s life. And hasten their death."
Gerry Leeseberg, attorney

“We are just getting started with the investigations on their behalf. They are all shocked. We are all shocked, we are just going to take it slow and figure out what happened and why and who all was involved," Leeseberg said. "Was it euthanasia? Certainly there were institutional controls that should have been in place that would have caught this kind of conduct and stopped it."

Mount Carmel’s Ed Lamb said in a pre-recorded statement, “We apologize for this tragedy and we are truly sorry for the additional grief this may have caused the families. We removed this doctor from patient care and terminated his employment."

Lamb said the hospital reported the situation to law enforcement and is taking measures to prevent it from happening again.

“We are working hard to learn all we can these cases. And we removed 20 hospital staff from providing further patient care while we gather more facts,” Lamb said.

Mount Carmel said 14 nurses and six pharmacists have been placed on administrative leave during the fact-finding.

“Regardless of the reasons the actions were taken, we take responsibility for the fact processes in place were not sufficient to prevent these actions from happening,” said Lamb.

“They are all in shock. I am in shock. This is what I do for a living. I can’t believe what I am hearing," Leeseberg sain. "Imagine if you are a patient’s family getting a call from the hospital, the people you entrusted your loved one's care to. They are raising questions about whether there was an intentional overdose of drugs leading to terminate your family member’s life. And hasten their death.”

Administrators were alerted to Husel’s alleged misdeeds by a whistleblower on staff after a zero-harm initiative was implemented.

“We have worked hard to create an environment where our employees can speak up and report. Thankfully, that process was used to report the doctor’s improper actions,” Mount Carmel Health said in an email.

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