COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Board of Nursing on Thursday suspended two nurses’ licenses for at least one year in cases related to allegations that intensive care patients were given excessive painkillers ordered by a hospital doctor now charged with murder.
The two cases are the first to come before the board since administrative hearings began in some of its 25 cases related to the matter.
The examiner for these two nurses’ hearings concluded that they failed to meet standards of safe care and should have known the large doses of fentanyl and other drugs were potentially harmful to patients they were supposed to protect. The nurses said that the doses had seemed acceptable to them at the time and that they were following and relying on the doctor’s expertise.
The fired doctor, William Husel, has pleaded not guilty to murder charges in the deaths of 25 patients in the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System over several years. He maintains he was providing comfort care for dying patients, not trying to kill them.
Nurse Wesley Black was accused of improperly administering large, potentially harmful doses to two patients on consecutive days in 2018 on Husel’s orders. Black got the medicine for one of those patients from the second nurse, Jordan Blair, who had retrieved it from an automated dispensing system using an override function before being reassigned to a different patient.
Speaking separately to the board on Wednesday, Blair and Black expressed remorse and said they would respond to such situations differently now.
“I watched Dr. Husel go above and beyond to try and heal patients, and we fought for their lives,” Black said. “I watched him perform miracles when other doctors couldn’t or wouldn’t try, and for these reasons, to hear and learn that he may have not been doing things within the standard of care has been very challenging to accept.”
After the nurses’ temporary license suspensions and conditions for reinstatement, the board said it also would require a probationary period to monitor the nurses’ work.
The examiner, Jack Decker, had recommended license suspensions of one year for Black and six months for Blair, and that they be required to go through additional training on topics such as medication administration, palliative care and nursing ethics.
Decker noted concerns about the working environment at Mount Carmel West hospital’s intensive care unit, where, for example, nurses had frequently used an override function on the drug dispensing system to access medicines even in non-emergencies.
“The night shift at Mount Carmel West was, in many ways, a dysfunctional workplace,” the examiner wrote in his recommendation on Blair’s case. “Dr. Husel evidently had little effective supervision, pharmacy review was ineffectual, and hospital policies were routinely ignored as next to irrelevant.”
Husel’s colleagues who administered or approved the drugs aren’t being criminally prosecuted, but some of those nurses and pharmacists were fired or referred for possible disciplinary action from their respective professional boards.
Mount Carmel’s internal review concluded Husel ordered potentially excessive doses for nearly three dozen patients over several years. He was charged only in cases that involved at least 500 micrograms of fentanyl — a painkiller far more powerful than morphine — because prosecutors said doses that large point to an intent to end lives.
Mount Carmel changed its policies and procedures and was fined $400,000 for violating Ohio pharmacy law. It has agreed to more than $13.7 million in settlements with patients’ families, and more related lawsuits remain unresolved.