COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — In the wake of a string of wrongful death allegations hurled at Mount Carmel Health System over a former doctor’s use of potent painkillers on dying patients, the hospital’s parent company had one question in mind: who to paint as the villain.
Columbus attorney Robert Landy, on behalf of his client and former Mount Carmel physician William Husel, filed a 55-page lawsuit in federal court last week accusing the hospital’s parent company, Trinity Health, of maliciously prosecuting the ousted ICU doctor as part of an orchestrated effort to protect the Michigan-based healthcare 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 have people believe them,” Landy said in an interview with NBC4.
About one year ago, a Franklin County jury found Husel not guilty of 14 counts of murder when he administered large doses of fentanyl to critically ill patients from 2015 to 2018. Prosecutors argued Husel’s use of the painkiller hastened or caused his patients’ deaths, while his defense attorneys contended he was providing comfort care to dying patients.
But before Husel appeared in court, Landy said Trinity Health deployed what he called misleading and “jaw-dropping” messaging to save face and smear the 47-year-old physician instead.
An internal strategy document from December 2018 asked the hospital’s top executives to select a “villain” of the narrative, and then-Trinity Health CEO Ed Lamb chose Husel as the “primary” villain,” according to copies provided by Landy.
A separate email circulated between Trinity Health executives and their external public relations team, read, “If Dr. Husel and any nurses are charged … it lessens the blow for Mount Carmel and Trinity Health.”
“They spoke about the value to Mount Carmel and Trinity that would come from indictments — specifically stating that indictments would be helpful in support Mount Carmel and Trinity’s message,” Landy said. “I’ve been a lawyer for 20 years. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the hospital’s messaging — which suggested that some of Husel’s patients may have lived had it not been for the pain medication — was misleading.
Landy cites a draft of a 2019 media statement that those patients’ “deterioration… may have been associated with a complication of the preceding care they received.”
“But by the time it was announced by February 22, any suggestion that this had to do with what happened to these patients before they got to the ICU was just left out,” Landy said.
A spokesperson for Trinity Health called the allegations “unfounded,” adding the hospital system “will address the matter as appropriate through the legal process.” She declined to further comment.
Landy said he still agrees with the Franklin County prosecutor’s decision to file charges against Husel back in 2019 – based on the information that the hospital provided. He also agrees with the tens of millions of dollars in settlement money paid by Mount Carmel to the families of Husel’s patients, although he believes those cases don’t tell the full story.
Husel remains unemployed and without a license to practice medicine.