COLUMBUS (WCMH) — An Ohio critical-care doctor was arrested and charged with murder Wednesday in the deaths of 25 hospital patients who authorities say were deliberately given overdoses of painkillers.
The charges against Dr. William Husel, 43, represent one of the biggest murder cases ever brought against a health care professional in the U.S.
He pleaded not guilty to 25 counts of murder, and a judge set bail at $1 million. Each charge carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison if convicted.
DR. HUSEL UPDATE: Prosecutor Ron O’Brien says he has never seen an indictment with this many counts of murder (25). He won’t label Husel a “serial killer.” pic.twitter.com/ZIRirIU2CC — Dan Pearlman (@danpearlman) June 5, 2019
O’Brien also says that the death penalty is off the table in this case because that would require an aggravated murder charge.
“We were comfortable pursuing murder charges. Based on that investigation and the expert testimony as opposed to believing we could prove aggravated murder, so the death penalty never really was under consideration,” says O’Brien.
O’Brien says a pharmacist is the whistle blower. Notified hospital of dosages and investigation started. — Kristine Varkony (@KristineVarkony) June 5, 2019
Hussel was fired from the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System in December and stripped of his medical license after the allegations against him began to surface. An internal hospital investigation found that he had ordered potentially fatal drug doses for dozens of patients over his five years at the hospital.
PHOTOS: Alleged victims of Dr. William Husel.
A lawyer for Husel has said he did not intend to kill anyone.
Mount Carmel Health System’s President and CEO Ed Lamb released the following statement in regard to the charges against Husel.
We appreciate the County Prosecutor’s leadership and his ongoing commitment to justice in this case. Following the discovery of the actions of Dr. Husel, we notified appropriate authorities, including law enforcement. We have shared information with them and will continue to fully cooperate throughout their investigation.
Mount Carmel has made and will continue to implement meaningful changes throughout our system to ensure events like these never happen again.
There is nothing more important to Mount Carmel than the safety of our patients and their trust in us. Providing compassionate care to patients and their families is one of our most sacred responsibilities. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the families of patients affected by this tragedy.
At the request of the County Prosecutor, and because this is now an ongoing criminal proceeding, Mount Carmel will not comment further on the specific facts or circumstances surrounding the care provided by Dr. Husel. For more information about Mount Carmel’s previous statements and actions relating to Dr. Husel, visit the fact page on MountCarmelHealth.com.
The motive remains unclear. Though many of the patients were seriously ill, hospital officials said some might have improved with treatment, and police Sgt. Terry McConnell said none of the families who talked with police believed that what happened was “mercy treatment.”
Franklin County prosecutor Ron O’Brien said there are no plans to charge any other staff members.
More than two dozen wrongful-death lawsuits have been filed against the doctor and the hospital system. Mount Carmel has publicly apologized and settled some of the cases for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mount Carmel has said it should have investigated and taken action against Husel more quickly. It said that the doctor wasn’t removed from patient care until four weeks after concerns about him were raised last fall, and that three patients died during that gap after receiving excessive doses he ordered.
Hospital officials have said all employees who had a role in administering medication to the victims have been removed from patient care as a precaution.
All told, 48 nurses and pharmacists were reported to their respective professional boards. Thirty of those employees were put on leave, and 18 no longer work there, including some who left years ago, officials said.
David Shroyer, an attorney representing some of the victims’ families, released the following statement after the charges were announced.
“The families are grateful for the hard work of Ron O’Brien, the Franklin County prosecutor and the Columbus police department. The families are hopeful that because of these investigations and future criminal and civil trials that hospitals across the country will take the necessary steps to protect their patients and prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future.”
Husel is accused of ordering excessive and potentially fatal doses of fentanyl or other pain medications for patients.
According to the hospital, a formal report on Husel was received Oct. 25, 2018, and he was removed from patient care on Nov. 21, 2018.
Husel is scheduled to be arraigned at 1pm, Wednesday in a Franklin County court room.