Jamie Ostroff and Maeve Walsh
3 hours ago
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — In the wake of a series of wrongful death charges against Mount Carmel Health System over a former doctor’s use of powerful painkillers on dying patients, the hospital’s parent company had one question on its mind: who to paint as the villain .
Columbus attorney Robert Lundy, on behalf of his client and former Mount Carmel doctor William Huessel, filed a 55-page lawsuit in federal court last week accusing the hospital’s parent company, Trinity Health, of maliciously persecuting the suspended ICU doctor as part of an orchestrated effort to protect the Michigan-based health giant’s reputation.
“For years, there was only one story, and it went unchallenged because it came from institutions that had incredible, inherent cultural authority to say what they said and get people to believe them,” Lundy said in an interview with NBC4.
About a year ago, a Franklin County jury found Huzel not guilty of 14 counts of murder when he administered large doses of fentanyl to critically ill patients from 2015 to 2018. Prosecutors say Huzel’s use of the painkiller hastened or caused the deaths of his patients, while his defenders argued that he provided comfortable care to dying patients.
But before Husel appeared in court, Landy said Trinity Health used what he called misleading and “mind-boggling” messages to save face and smear the 47-year-old doctor instead.
An internal strategy document from December 2018 asked the hospital’s top executives to pick a “villain” from the narrative, and then-Trinity Health CEO Ed Lamb chose Hussell as the “primary” villain, according to copies provided by Lundy.
A separate email circulated between Trinity Health executives and their outside public relations team read: “If Dr. Hussell and all the nurses are charged … it lessens the blow to Mount Carmel and Trinity Health.”
“They talked about the value of Mount Carmel and Trinity that would come from indictments — specifically saying that the indictments would be helpful in supporting Mount Carmel and Trinity’s message,” Lundy said. “I have been a lawyer for 20 years. I have never seen anything like it.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the hospital’s reports — which suggested some of Husel’s patients might be alive if it weren’t for the pain medication — were misleading.
Landy cited a 2019 draft media statement that “the deterioration in these patients … may have been related to a complication of the previous care they received.”
“But by the time it was announced until February 22nd, any suggestion that this was related to what happened to these patients before they got to the ICU was just dropped,” Lundy said.
A spokesman for Trinity Health called the allegations “baseless,” adding that the hospital system “will address the matter as appropriate through the legal process.” She declined further comment.
Landy said he still agrees with the Franklin County District Attorney’s decision to file charges against Hussell as early as 2019 — based on the information provided by the hospital. He also agrees with the tens of millions of dollars in settlement money paid out by Mount Carmel to the families of Husel’s patients, though he believes those cases don’t tell the whole story.
Hussel remains unemployed and without a license to practice medicine.