COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A doctor who ordered excessive and possibly fatal doses of pain medicine for dozens of hospital patients kept working for four weeks after concern was raised last fall, an Ohio health care system acknowledged Thursday.
Three patients died during those weeks after getting excessive dosages of medication ordered by Dr. William Husel, the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System said in a statement. The health system noted that it "should have begun a more expedited process to investigate and consider immediate removal" of the since-fired intensive care doctor after a report about him was received Oct. 25.
Mount Carmel also said it now knows of more affected patients — at least 34 over the past few years. It previously said that affected patients were near death and their families had decided to stop lifesaving measures. But now, it says it's investigating whether some patients got excessive doses while there still might have been opportunity to treat their conditions.
Some families suing the hospital and Husel over their loved ones' deaths have raised questions about that and about whether they received accurate, honest information about the graveness of the patients' conditions as they made decisions about their care.
The health system said it's investigating whether the families received accurate information about patients' conditions, potential treatments and likelihood to recover.
"We are committed to being open and honest about what happened and what we are doing to ensure it never happens again," the statement said.
Husel worked for Mount Carmel for five years. His lawyers aren't commenting.
The allegations have raised questions about whether drugs were used to hasten deaths intentionally or possibly illegally. At least four wrongful-death lawsuits allege that patients died because hospital employees either negligently or intentionally gave them inappropriately large doses of the powerful painkiller fentanyl, unbeknownst to the patients' families.
Mount Carmel said 28 of the 34 patients received doses that were potentially fatal, and six got doses that were larger than necessary to provide comfort "but were likely not the cause of their deaths."
The hospital previously said it put six pharmacists and 14 nurses on paid leave pending further investigation. It said Thursday that it anticipates more affected patients might be discovered as the review proceeds.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Department of Health is investigating on behalf of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Franklin County prosecutor confirmed a local investigation.
Husel's work also is under internal review by the Cleveland Clinic, where he was a supervised resident from 2008 to 2013. The medical center said its preliminary review found his prescribing practices were "consistent with appropriate care."
Records show the State Medical Board in Ohio has never taken disciplinary action against Husel. The board doesn't disclose whether it has received complaints if no formal disciplinary action is taken.