Hospital deaths: Why did it take so long to notice?

Someone finally noticed something was wrong at the Mount Carmel Health System hospital near Columbus — but only after 25 people had died, allegedly because a doctor ordered they be given excessively large doses of a painkiller drug.

Dr. William Husel has been charged with murder in the deaths, which occurred between 2015 and 2018. Dozens of hospital employees, some of whom administered the lethal drugs to desperately ill patients, have been disciplined. Authorities say no one seems to have known they were helping kill people. Husel’s attorney insists his client is innocent. He adds the patients in question were dying anyway.

Hospital officials appear to have acted decisively upon learning about Husel’s actions. But the troubling question — for all health care facilities, not just Mount Carmel — is why it took so long for anyone to notice something was wrong.

And the issue of immediate, decisive action in such cases has come up: Mount Carmel officials admit Husel was allowed to continue treating patients for four weeks after concerns about him were voiced. During that period, three patients died.

Could better monitoring of patients under Husel’s care have saved some? Do nationwide-best practices for such oversight need to be adjusted? Were safeguards already in place at Mount Carmel followed strictly? For their part, officials at the Columbus-area hospital have apologized and pledged to make “meaningful changes” in patient care.

People go to hospitals to get well or, in some cases, to die when efforts to save them have been exhausted — not to be killed.