NYT: How One Doctor Killed 25 Patients

An investigation by The New York Times into Dr. William Hussel, currently accused of killing at least 25 of his patients, reveals glaring missteps by hospital administrators and nurses. According to the criminal complaint against the disgraced doctor, Dr. Hussel routinely administered opioid doses between five and 20 times the recommended amount at the intensive care unit he worked at in Ohio. Given the scope of his alleged crimes, the families who trusted the doctor only to find out that he killed their loved one are outraged and demanding answers. Mount Carmel, the hospital where the doctor is accused of killing his patients, has already paid out more than $13 million in legal settlements. 

The investigation by The New York Times shows a hospital with an ineffective administration, insufficient safeguards to prevent prescribing excessive doses, and a hospital staff either too charmed or too intimidated to second-guess the doctors.  According to the article, the “red flags” surrounding Dr. Hussel were apparent and ignored from the start of his tenure at the hospital. As a medical student, he pleaded guilty to creating a pipe bomb, which he originally planned on putting underneath the vehicle of another student who told the police he was stealing car stereos. The hospital said they had no knowledge of the criminal incident – even though it was reported to the medical board and available in the public record. 

In another blow to the competence of hospital administrations, federal investigators are now looking into whether Dr. Hussel should have been admitted as an intensive care unit doctor at all. The doctor had trained as an anesthesiologist, not an internist. The application for his position at Mount Carmel stated a four-year residency in internal medicine is required for the position. The hospital said his “fellowship in critical care” at the Cleveland Clinic satisfied the requirement.

Further, the opioids which the doctor used to kill his patients lacked sufficient safeguards. While pharmacies and hospitals must keep detailed records of their opioid use, intensive care units (along with hospices) are given much more free rein. While the medication is supposed to receive prior approval from pharmacists before being administered, these protocols were not strictly followed in the intensive care unit, either. The hospital blames understaffing and the immediate need for medication for many patients in the ICU. 

Lastly, the nurses and pharmacists appeared to be complicit – either because they feared Dr. Hussell or they admired him. After writing the prescriptions that would kill his patients, nurses would then fill the prescription and administer the fatal dose. One nurse who complained to Dr. Hussel reports being scolded and reprimanded for trying to tell the trained doctor how much medication to prescribe. For the two pharmacists who reported the doctor to hospital administrators in the summer and fall of 2018, no action or investigation was ever undertaken by the hospital.

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