Mount Carmel pharmacy manager named in latest wrongful death lawsuit

File photo - Mount Carmel West (WBNS-10TV)

COLUMBUS – In addition to naming Mount Carmel Health System, Dr. William Husel and nurses and pharmacists, the latest wrongful death lawsuit alleges that Mount Carmel pharmacy manager Janet Whittey should have been aware of “inappropriate and unsafe prescribing” at the hospital.

Whittey’s employment status with the hospital is not clear.

A hospital spokeswoman told 10 Investigates “we do not comment on individual matters of employment.”

Advertisement - Story continues below

The hospital has, however, commented on an employee’s status in the past. It confirmed that it terminated Dr. Husel’s employment on December 5. It has announced on January 24 that it placed 23 employees – including 14 nurses, 6 pharmacists – and three additional employees

A call and voicemail left for Whittey was not returned and no one answered the door at her home Thursday.

The state board of pharmacy confirmed to 10 Investigates that Whittey notified the board this week to inform them that she was no longer considered the “responsible person” or point of contact between the board of pharmacy and the hospital. A spokeswoman for the board said that Mount Carmel has 10 days to notify the board who the new “responsible person” is for the hospital.

The lawsuit alleges that Whittey "was aware of inappropriate and unsafe prescribing, approving, and administrating of Fentanyl by co-defendants, but failed to take action to prevent such inappropriate Fentanyl use from reoccurring.”

The lawsuit was filed by the family of 82-year old Melissa Penix, who died on Nov. 20, 2018. Attorney Craig Tuttle, who represents her family, said that Penix had been brought to the ICU, had pneumonia and that her family was encouraged by Dr. William Husel to remove her from a ventilator. It was after that decision was made, Tuttle says, that Penix was given 2,000 micrograms of fentanyl – the largest dose known to date.

What’s more concerning, Tuttle says, is that Penix’s family was told that her death triggered the hospital’s internal investigation. Tuttle says that’s curious because the hospital has publicly acknowledged that it first learned of an allegation involving Dr. Husel’s care through a “formal report” it received on October 25, 2018. The hospital would not remove Husel from patient care until Nov. 21, 2018. During that time period, three more patients – including Penix and Rebecca Walls – would die.

“They've admitted they knew. And they've admitted in the media that they should've done something sooner,” Tuttle said.

To date, 34 patients are believed to have received potentially lethal doses of fentanyl. Twenty-eight of the 34 patients, the hospital says, likely received fatal doses. The other six received doses that “went beyond providing comfort” but were likely not the causes for their deaths.

Husel has been accused in 14 wrongful death lawsuits of ordering “grossly inappropriate” and “excessive” doses of painkillers for patients at Mount Carmel West and Mount Carmel St. Ann’s in Westerville.

Various nurses and pharmacists have been named in the lawsuits accused of administering and approving the large potentially lethal doses.

In response to this latest lawsuit, a hospital spokeswoman provided this statement:

As we said before, we received a formal report on October 25, 2018, that related to Dr. Husel’s care. Based on what we learned about that report, we should have begun a more expedited process to investigate and consider immediate removal of Dr. Husel from patient care at that time. Dr. Husel was removed from patient care on November 21, 2018.

Also, 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.

Earlier this week, a Mount Carmel employee came forward to 10 Investigates the hospital’s lack of internal controls allowed what he called a “systemic failure” to occur. The employee said that Husel was well-respected among his colleagues and he added that there were instances in which the pharmacy was unaware of how the high doses of painkillers were being used.

10 Investigates asked the employee: “So in other words, you wouldn’t have to tell the pharmacy you were doing a ventilator withdrawal?”
Employee: “That’s exactly right.”
10 Investigates: “You could just say I need 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl?”
Employee: “That’s exactly right.”

The majority of the 19 patients who have been publicly identified have said through their attorneys that their loved ones were on a ventilator and that they were encouraged by Dr. Husel to remove life support. It was during that process that some of the patients were given high doses of fentanyl.