Trial underway for Ohio doctor charged with hospital death | Region

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The trial of an Ohio doctor charged with multiple hospital deaths began Tuesday with the defendant refusing a possible last-minute plea deal and jurors hearing both sides of what led to the death of 14 patients under the supervision of the doctor. care.

Dr. William Hussel is accused of ordering excessive painkillers for patients in the Mount Carmel Health System in the Columbus area. He has been charged in cases involving at least 500 micrograms of the powerful painkiller fentanyl.

Prosecutors said ordering such doses for a non-surgical situation indicated an intent to end lives. Husel pleaded not guilty and said he provided comfort care to dying patients, not trying to kill them.

Over the next few weeks, jurors are supposed to hear of at least 50 prosecution witnesses, probably medical experts, as well as other defense witnesses.

The long-awaited trial began minutes after Assistant Franklin County District Attorney David Zeyen told Judge Michael Holbrook that he had discussed the possibility of a plea deal with Husel’s lawyers that would have reduced the charges. charges of murder to reckless homicide with up to 30 years in prison, with early release a possibility. Zeyen stressed that this was not a formal offer.

Husel’s attorney, Jose Baez, called it an “extremely reasonable starting point”, but said his client wanted to move forward with a trial to get his day in court.

Prosecutors would provide evidence that Husel administered massive amounts of painkillers to patients, far more than was medically necessary to relieve pain, Franklin County Assistant District Attorney Janet Grubb said in an opening statement. Dosages were often administered as ventilators were removed.

Instead of the recommended doses of 50 to 100 micrograms of fentanyl, Husel administered 600 to 2,000 micrograms at a time, Grubb said.

Grubb said the reputation of Husel, a widely admired doctor who specializes in anesthesiology and critical care, enabled him to overcome the concerns of staff working in the evening intensive care unit about excessive doses.

“Ultimately our case is that William Husel caused the deaths of our 14 victims,” ​​Grubb said.

Husel, 46, was initially charged with 25 counts of murder. Last month, a judge agreed to dismiss 11 of these counts against Husel at the request of the prosecution.

The 25 charges were brought in 2019 by another prosecutor. Current prosecutor Gary Tyack said in January 2021 that he favors dismissing some of the counts against Husel and pursuing fewer cases.

Baez argued that Husel was trying to help patients, some in the last moments of their lives, cope with their pain. He was not involved in medically assisted dying, but in medically living well, he said.

“This case, ladies and gentlemen, is about 100 percent comfort care,” Baez said in his opening statement. “A person’s right to live out their last moments in peace and dignity.”

Baez suggested the state’s case ignored the fact that several other medical professionals were involved in the patients’ cases and that Mount Carmel was more interested in protecting its Medicare and Medicaid patients once news of the patients’ deaths broke out only to find out what really happened. .

Mount Carmel has reached settlements totaling more than $16.7 million for the deaths of at least 17 patients, with other lawsuits pending.

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Elna M. Lemons