The Columbus Dispatch

Second pharmacist testifies about doses

Had alerted supervisor about medication­s

- Holly Zachariah

As a Mount Carmel Health System pharmacist recounted his concerns over high doses of painkiller­s that William Husel was ordering for his patients, a handful of friends and loved ones of those whom investigat­ors say died at the former doctor’s hands leaned forward in courtroom benches, hanging on every word.

One took copious notes on paper, another squinted to see each bit of medical evidence displayed on big television screens.

They all paid rapt attention as the third day of Husel’s murder trial brought testimony from a second Mount Carmel pharmacist, this one testifying that he had alerted his supervisor via email twice in late 2018 about the doses of medication­s being administer­ed on Husel’s overnight watch in the intensive care unit.

“I had concerns about the doses … they seemed high to me,” said Greg Dresbach, a clinical staff pharmacist now at Mount Carmel Grove City hospital, but who had worked with Husel previously at the former Mount Carmel West hospital.

Husel, the former Mount Carmel Health system doctor accused of prescribin­g excessive doses of painkiller­s to ICU patients between 2015 and 2018, is on trial in Franklin County Common Pleas Court on 14 counts of murder.

Just like Talon Schroyer, another Mount Carmel pharmacist who testified Wednesday and into Thursday morning, Dresbach said that when he first saw an order from Husel for 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl for a patient, he thought it was an error and that an extra zero had been added.

With 75-year-old patient Rebecca Walls on Nov. 19, 2018, he said he tried to call and inquire about why that high dose was ordered and could reach no

doctors or nurses. So he rejected the order, but later discovered an override function on the pharmacy machines had been used – something that is allowed – and the medication had already been administer­ed.

Walls died that day. Janet Watkins, a close friend of Walls’ for 35 years who had medical power-of-attorney and was responsibl­e for making decisions about her health care, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in January 2019 against Mount Carmel Health, Husel, Dresbach, and others. Mount Carmel settled the lawsuit in August 2019 for $4.65 million, according to court records, with $2.6 million going to extended family members of Wall and their attorneys getting $1.74 million.

Franklin County Assistant Prosecutor Paula Sawyers showed jurors two emails that Dresbach had sent in late 2018 to Randal Miles, who was then-operations supervisor at Mount Carmel West. In those back-to-back emails about two different patients, Dresbach expressed concerns not only about the dosage but about the appropriat­e use of medication override – meaning when doctors or nurses access the medication and administer it before a pharmacist approves it.

One of those emails, dated Nov. 19, 2018, began: “Randy: As you know, there have been a few instances of ‘highly questionab­le’ palliative withdrawal orders by Dr. Husel in the ICU. Unfortunat­ely, I have a new one to bring to your attention.”

He was referencin­g the practice of keeping patients comfortabl­e while removing vents and intubation.

There was no discussion in court about Miles’ response to those emails. He was expected to testify Thursday afternoon but a potential juror problem delayed things.

The afternoon testimony was halted right after lunch for more than 90 minutes after a juror brought to the court’s attention that some of the panel had had discussion­s about the “notoriety” of Jose Baez, a lead attorney on Husel’s defense team who had defended clients in many high-profile, media-intensive cases across the country.

In addition, jurors had apparently asked court staff if they could have

some “preliminar­y discussion­s” on certain things.

Attorneys for both sides and the judge met privately to discuss whether

an admonishme­nt would do, or if any or all of the jurors should be asked individual­ly about their conduct.

The issue wasn’t resolved before The Dispatch’s deadline.

Earlier on Thursday, Assistant Prosecutor Sawyers walked Dresbach through the medication­s administer­ed to a number of patients beside Walls, including James Nickolas Timmons, 39; Ryan Hayes, 39; and 69-year-old Joanne S. Bellisari, a few of the 14 patients Husel is accused of hastening their deaths.

With each of those patients, the pharmacist said, he wondered about the dosages.

But in a case where the key question is what, exactly, appropriat­e dosages of painkiller­s are for patients in a critical state, defense attorney Diane Menashe zeroed in on the case of Timmons in particular, who was given 2,000 micrograms of fentanyl as well as other medication­s.

Menashe pointed out that the day before Husel ordered that medication for Timmons, medical records show that he was given more than 14,000 micrograms of fentanyl while in the operating room.

“One of the things you use when determinin­g appropriat­eness (of dosage) is tolerance, is it not?” she asked Dresbach. He replied yes.

In addition to Walls, Timmons and Bellisari, Husel is facing murder charges in the deaths of: Ryan Hayes, 39; Beverlee Ann Schirtzing­er, 63; Danny Mollette, 74; ; Brandy Mcdonald, 37; Francis Burke, 73; Jeremia Hodge, 57; James Allen, 80; Troy Allison, 44; Bonnie Austin, 64; Sandra Castle, 80; and Melissa Penix, 82.

The trial is expected to last at least two months with at least 50 witnesses likely to testify. hzachariah@dispatch.com @hollyzacha­riah

 ?? DISPATCH FRED SQUILLANTE/COLUMBUS ?? Defense lawyer Diane Menashe questions pharmacist Talon Schroyer during the William Husel trial on Wednesday.
DISPATCH FRED SQUILLANTE/COLUMBUS Defense lawyer Diane Menashe questions pharmacist Talon Schroyer during the William Husel trial on Wednesday.
 ?? PHOTOS BY FRED SQUILLANTE/COLUMBUS DISPATCH ?? Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Michael Holbrook talks to the jury on Tuesday after they returned from a lunch break in the trial of former Mount Carmel Health doctor William Husel.
PHOTOS BY FRED SQUILLANTE/COLUMBUS DISPATCH Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Michael Holbrook talks to the jury on Tuesday after they returned from a lunch break in the trial of former Mount Carmel Health doctor William Husel.
 ?? ?? Former Mount Carmel Health doctor William Husel sits in a Franklin County Common Pleas courtroom during a short break Wednesday in his trial on 14 counts of murder.
Former Mount Carmel Health doctor William Husel sits in a Franklin County Common Pleas courtroom during a short break Wednesday in his trial on 14 counts of murder.

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