Doctor found not guilty in 14 hospital patient deaths: What’s next?

Midwest

(NewsNation) — Families of the 14 patients who died in relation to the Dr. William Husel case are distraught after a jury acquitted the Ohio doctor of murder charges following a lengthy trial.

Even though the jury returned an acquittal, the attorney representing the patients’ families says the case against Husel is far from over.

Next steps? Civil trials against Husel’ there’s a deposition already on the books for next month.

Husel faced accusations of ordering excessive painkillers for the 14 patients linked to the case at Mt. Carmel Health System. The cases involved at least 500 micrograms of fentanyl and set off a huge debate about end-of-life medical care and the use of opioids.

Criminal defense attorney Karen Felecia Nance appeared Wednesday on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” to comment on how this may impact future cases.

“The bottom line is that before the prosecution or any prosecution brings a case, they need to make sure that they have enough evidence to support their case. In this instance, Mount Carmel did not have the evidence in that … the jury found that he did not intend to purposely cause the death of these individuals, these patients.”

The dosage of the drugs was also at issue, she said.

“There’s nothing that’s been established in the Mount Carmel policy to say that a certain amount of fentanyl … is prohibited or is allowed. So I think that the prosecution had an uphill battle and didn’t obviously make their burden. And the jury came back with a finding of not guilty,” Nance said.

Nance explained that intent will be a key difference between the criminal and civil cases, since the burden of evidence is not as high for civil trials.

“There are several of the families, I don’t know if it’s all 14, but many of them have filed suit and they’re supposed to bring the cases to trial, I believe, this summer. So, that is a different standard by the preponderance of evidence. But I think the fact that we had the testimony and we were able to hear from 54 witnesses in this criminal case, I think that will impact whether or not the cases in civil court will prevail or not, but it is a lower standard,” Nance said.

What kind of precedent does the Husel case set? Could the acquittal make prosecutors more reluctant to bring cases against some doctors for their alleged role in the opioid epidemic? Nance says in future cases, there will have to be a distinction between overdoses on the street and what doctors are administering to patients who are terminally ill, pointing out that in Husel’s case, all 14 patients were terminally ill or needed critical care.

“I think that before another prosecutor brings a case, that needs to be examined to make sure that all their i’s are dotted, t’s are crossed, in making sure … that particular hospital does have a policy with regard to the amount of dosage for not only fentanyl but other drugs that are administered for pain. Also, the physicians need to be given some discretion in terms of the care for their patients as well,” Nance said.

In future cases linked to the opioid epidemic, Nance says regulations should be examined on a case-by-case basis.

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