A former doctor is suing a Michigan-based health care system, alleging he was unfairly fired and maliciously prosecuted for giving high doses of painkillers to patients who were taken off life support while in his care.
Dr. William Hussell was charged with 25 counts of murder for supplying these drugs, which his lawyers argued were intended to provide comfort care to dying patients in the intensive care unit at Mount Carmel West Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. The prosecutor dismissed eleven of those charges, and a jury found the doctor not guilty of all 14 remaining charges in April 2022.
Husel is now suing Trinity Health, which owns Mount Carmel West Hospital, in U.S. District Court. The 59-page lawsuit seeks a trial and at least $20 million to explain the economic, physiological and physical harm caused by the former doctor’s situation.
A spokesman for Trinity Health — a nonprofit, faith-based system based in Livonia with more than 80 hospitals nationwide — responded to the lawsuit with a brief statement: “The allegations are without merit, and we will pursue the matter as appropriate through a judicial process.” process. . As this is an active legal case, we have no further comment.
Hussell worked as an ICU intensivist at the Ohio hospital for five years before he was fired in December 2018, according to the lawsuit. While employed there, he regularly treated patients who had overdosed on illicit drugs, as well as other populations at high risk of mortality.
Sometimes the unit admits patients who are too sick to survive, the lawsuit alleges. An investigation by the hospital found that Huessel in some cases used higher levels of opioid drugs and benzodiazepines, depressants that produce sedation, than his peers to treat patients who were in the process of imminent death after having been taken off life support.
The lawsuit alleges that there was no hospital policy regarding dosing guidelines for the use of opioids and benzodiazepines in connection with terminal withdrawal in the intensive care unit. The doses of fentanyl ordered by Husel varied by patient, from 200 micrograms to 2,000 micrograms, based on circumstances, including the patient’s prior opiate use.
“The only hospital policy on the matter stated that pain medication should be given “as medically indicated,” a phrase that gives discretion to the physician,” the lawsuit states.
Husel’s legal team argued that Trinity Health ordered it terminated and ordered the Ohio hospital to meet with the Franklin County District Attorney and report on the belief that the doses were intended to hasten death, “regardless of the fact that they knew it had not been proven, as every other witness they interviewed explained, that the intent was not to hasten death, but to provide appropriate end-of-life care.
Shortly after being acquitted of murder, Hussell voluntarily surrendered his license to practice medicine.
“Dr. Hussell understood that regardless of the acquittal, the reputational damage he suffered would prevent him from practicing as a physician,” the lawsuit says. “As such, he has agreed with the Ohio Board of Medicine that he failed to cooperate with their investigation against him during the pending criminal investigation and prosecution, asserting his Fifth Amendment rights.”
Husel claims that Trinity Health’s primary goals were “to distract the public from its own administrative failings and/or support a restrictive/religious approach to end-of-life medicine that is inconsistent with accepted medical standards by equating non-Catholic views on the ‘sanctity of life’ with murder,” according to the lawsuit.
In addition to the lawsuit filed in Michigan, Husel has two other pending lawsuits awaiting trial in Ohio. They were filed in December 2019, before his acquittal.
Trinity Health operates several Michigan Catholic hospitals in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Metro Detroit.
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