COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The 44-year-old excavator was taken to the emergency room with shortness of breath. Breathing trouble also sent a 64-year-old woman to the same hospital. A third patient, a 79-year-old woman with health problems, was transferred from an assisted care facility.
Now their relatives allege each died because employees at a hospital in Ohio either negligently or intentionally gave them inappropriately large doses of powerful pain medicine.
The families' wrenching personal stories about loved ones' deaths are emerging in wrongful death lawsuits after the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System announced this week that a doctor ordered pain medicine for at least 27 near-death patients in dosages significantly bigger than necessary to provide comfort.
The announcement involving patients from the past few years raised questions about whether drugs were used to hasten deaths intentionally and possibly illegally. Mount Carmel publicly apologized and said it fired the intensive care doctor, reported its findings to authorities, removed 20 employees from patient care pending further review, and notified affected families.
Christine Allison, of Columbus, said the recent notification that her 44-year-old husband, Troy, was among those cases re-started her grieving process and left her shocked that such a scenario could happen despite procedural and technological safeguards in hospital care.
"The system failed tremendously," Allison said Thursday.
She said she is sure her husband's July death wasn't a case of assisted suicide because he wasn't communicating with caregivers at the time.
Her lawyer, Gerry Leeseberg, said Troy Allison experienced multi-system organ failure, but Leeseberg said medical records raise questions about whether the man's condition was as grave as his family was told or might have been treatable.
Allison's lawsuit is among at least three so far against William Husel, Mount Carmel and other employees who approved and administered drugs.
Husel's lawyers aren't commenting on the allegations.
Leeseberg said he is representing families of at least a dozen of the 27 patients. He said he's also been contacted by other families asking questions about the medical care of loved ones who were treated by Husel or received hefty doses of drugs but weren't among the 27 notified by Mount Carmel.
President and CEO Ed Lamb has said Mount Carmel is taking action to understand what occurred and ensure it doesn't happen again.
Columbus attorney Adam Todd, who was notified that his grandmother's death was among the 27 concerning cases, said his family feels Mount Carmel has tried to "cover their actions and to reduce their financial responsibility." His 83-year-old grandmother Thelma Kyer died in June. Todd is following what happens with Mount Carmel but has not filed a lawsuit.
Todd said when Mount Carmel contacted him in December, the hospital wouldn't say why it had reviewed the doctor's work. But the health system said this week that the situation came to light because an employee reported a safety concern. It shared no information about what might have prompted employees to approve and administer excessive dosages.
A prosecutor confirmed an investigation is ongoing in Franklin County.
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.
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