Attorneys for hospital, Husel deny allegations in Mount Carmel wrongful death lawsuits

Photo of Dr. William Hussel (Mount Carmel West)

COLUMBUS — Attorneys representing both Mount Carmel Health System and Dr. William Husel have responded to several of the wrongful death lawsuits filed against them.

Attorneys for the hospital have denied the allegations; so too has an attorney for Dr. William Husel, who also claims that his client is immune from being sued under Ohio law.

In all of the recent responses, Attorney Greg Foliano denies the allegations against his client and alleges that several of the patients were in grim or poor conditions when they came into Mount Carmel West Hospital.

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In one of the latest responses this week, attorney Greg Foliano writes that Melissa Penix was 82 years old when she came to the emergency department with “increased shortness of breath, which she had reported she had for weeks.”

“She was coughing up blood and was admitted with diagnosis of suspected pneumonia and congestive heart failure. Her breathing continued to worsen, requiring greater and greater support. Ultimately, she had to be transferred to the ICU, where intubation and mechanical ventilation were required… Her family decided she would not want to be put on a ventilator and requested removal of support that was sustaining Ms. Penix’s life.”

Foliano does not note what Penix’s attorneys allege, that she received 2,000 micrograms of fentanyl – the largest dose known to date.

To date, 35 patients are believed to have received excessive or potentially fatal doses of pain medications between 2014 and 2018. All patients died and all were under the care of Dr. Husel, who the hospital fired in December after an internal investigation.

What exactly killed the patients is being debated between civil attorneys representing the patients’ families and attorneys representing Mount Carmel and Husel.

The hospital has said that 29 of the patients received potentially fatal doses while six others received doses that “went beyond providing comfort” but were likely not the causes of their deaths.

Thirty-four of the patients attended Mount Carmel West Hospital; one of them attended Mount Carmel St. Ann’s in Westerville.

Penix’s attorneys with the law firm of Leeseberg & Valentine announced in February that Penix’s husband was told his wife’s death may have prompted their investigation into Dr. Husel.

Penix died on November 20, 2018. Husel was removed from patient care the next day. The hospital had received two other formal reports concerning Husel’s patient care prior to Penix’s death.

In another response, attorney Greg Foliano alleges that Mount Carmel patient Norma Welch was 85 years old when she first came to the hospital at Mount Carmel West. She had pneumonia, respiratory failure and internal bleeding and “told her doctor she did not want to be resuscitated and did not want to be intubated.”

“She had a rapid deterioration to the point where she was on the fullest life support measures they could undertake pursuant to her wishes. It was noted that without this support, she would not survive.”

Foliano goes on to write that Husel denies the allegations contained in Welch’s wrongful death lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that Welch was given 900 micrograms of fentanyl.

He also denies the allegations against Husel in another wrongful death lawsuit involving Sanders Young. Foliano’s response says that when emergency services arrived at his nursing home facility, Young had no heartbeat.

“They intubated and resuscitated him and upon arrival to Mount Carmel West, Mr. Young was unresponsive. He was ultimately admitted to the ICU and the doctors noted the prognosis was quite dismal. The doctors noted it was likely he would never improve to the point of coming off the ventilator.”

After eight days in the hospital, Foliano alleges in his reply that Young coded again and needed to be resuscitated again. “Following this, his family came to the hospital and made the decision to withdraw the life-sustaining ventilatory and pharmacological support.”

Health inspectors with the Ohio Department of Health, which conducted a site visit on behalf of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, found that Young received 400 micrograms on fentanyl in July of 2016. The records do not show that the pharmacy approved the dose.

Inspectors noted that in 24 of the 27 patient cases they reviewed, Husel used an override function on the hospital’s automated medication dispensing machine to gain access to large doses of pain medications.

Husel’s criminal attorney, Richard Blake, has said that Husel did not intend to kill these patients. “That was not his intent to do that,” Blake has said.

Foliano also alleges that Dr. Husel is immune from being sued, citing Ohio laws on immunity. Among the laws he cited read as follows:

A) Subject to division (D) of this section, an attending physician, consulting physician, health care facility, and health care personnel acting under the direction of an attending physician are not subject to criminal prosecution, are not liable in damages in a tort or other civil action, and are not subject to professional disciplinary action for any of the following:

  1. Prescribing, dispensing, administering, or causing to be administered any particular medical procedure, treatment, intervention, or other measure to a qualified patient or other patient, including, but not limited to, prescribing, personally furnishing, administering, or causing to be administered by judicious titration or in another manner any form of medication, for the purpose of diminishing the qualified patient's or other patient's pain or discomfort and not for the purpose of postponing or causing the qualified patient's or other patient's death, even though the medical procedure, treatment, intervention, or other measure may appear to hasten or increase the risk of the patient's death, if the attending physician so prescribing, dispensing, administering, or causing to be administered or the health care personnel acting under the direction of the attending physician so dispensing, administering, or causing to be administered are carrying out in good faith the responsibility to provide comfort care described in division (E)(1) of section 2133.12 of the Revised Code.