(CNN)Nine nurses and a pharmacist who worked with a doctor accused of killing 25 people by overprescribing pain medication in Columbus, Ohio, are suing their previous employer for defamation and wrongful termination, according to a lawsuit.
Colleagues of doctor accused of killing patients by overprescribing pain medication sue hospital
The plaintiffs claim in a 145-page lawsuit that Mount Carmel Health System, former CEO Ed Lamb and Trinity Health Corporation, the parent company of Mount Carmel, fired those who worked with Dr. William Husel at Mount Carmel West Hospital for their alleged complicit behavior in following through on Husel's prescriptions.
They allege that the hospital system then changed policies concerning medication dosage that risked patient care for the purpose of protecting its image. Through these acts and the hospital's media relations campaign managing the scandal, the lawsuit says, the hospital defamed their reputation and made it difficult to find new jobs.
"This preposterous (but headline-grabbing) false narrative of an evil rogue doctor and his complicit staff ultimately destroyed the lives and livelihoods of dozens of dedicated nurses and pharmacists, and convinced the public, the Franklin County prosecutor, and the State Attorney General, that something terrible had been going on," the lawsuit states.
CNN has reached out to the Franklin County prosecutor and the Ohio attorney general for comment.
"This claim has no merit," said Melissa Lander, the regional director for communications and media relations for Mount Carmel Health System. "We thoroughly investigated these events and stand by our decisions. Mount Carmel's focus continues to be on caring for our community."
The hospital said that Husel ordered "excessive" doses of pain medications for near death patients under his care at the hospital's intensive care unit.
In June 2019, Husel was indicted on 25 counts of murder for allegedly overprescribing pain medication to patients near death in the hospital's intensive care unit. The deaths took place between February 2015 to November 2018, according to the indictment. Husel has plead not guilty.
According to CNN affiliate WBNS, 31 wrongful death lawsuits have been filed since Mount Carmel announced in January 2019 that some patients had received "significantly excessive and potentially fatal doses" of pain medication, and that Mount Carmel has paid out more than $13 million in settlements. Husel was fired in December 2018 after an internal investigation.
The lawsuit alleges that Mount Carmel changed its policies to create a false narrative that Husel and the staff were not following established policies.
"The new policies, along with many other destructive actions that Trinity and Mount Carmel took, were all designed to create a single false appearance: that in the preceding five years, Dr. Husel and dozens of ICU staff, had not been following established policies and had not been providing compassionate and proper care to patients who had been removed from life support on their and their families' wishes," the lawsuit states. "Rather, the 'remedial' policies (and public statements about them) were designed to create the false appearance that the ICU staff had, without any rational explanation whatsoever, been deliberately overmedicating dying patients in their final moments on Dr. Husel's orders to cause (or "hasten") their deaths."
Part of the lawsuit is dedicated to medical research, describing the dosing of pain medication as subjective and not easily categorized when dealing with end-of-life patients.
The nurses have allegedly had their morals questioned by friends and family and been accosted in public, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims that the nurses were "refused service by mental health providers when they sought assistance to deal with the psychological impact of what Mount Carmel and Trinity had done to them."
Plaintiffs are asking for a minimum of $25,000 per plaintiff, but ideally want their "respective salaries at the time of termination," according to the lawsuit. They also are asking for the cost of tuition of nursing school or advanced clinical degrees, as well as punitive damages and attorney's fees.
"We hope that this litigation will finally bring the truth to light, and begin to restore the crucial trust between the Columbus community and its dedicated nurses, pharmacists, and doctors that Mount Carmel and Trinity have so badly damaged in the past year," said attorney Robert Landy of Ford O'Brien LLP, who is representing the plaintiffs.