— PeaceHealth makes cuts to palliative care

Karen Lerner sits at the kitchen table of her Bellingham home. She has been a PeaceHealth palliative care patient since her cancer diagnosis two and a half years ago. Lerner is switching to remote palliative care through Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center because PeaceHealth is reducing its program on May 26. “That was devastating to me,” she said.


PeaceHealth in Whatcom County is ending comprehensive outpatient palliative care on May 26, reducing staff to one nurse and one social worker for in-home care of seriously ill patients.

Criticism of the decision has been harsh, with some patients and observers saying it goes directly against PeaceHealth’s mission.

“This community, Whatcom County, has really been a leader in serious-illness and end-of-life care for the past decade, and I just feel like they cut us off at the knees,” said Marie Eaton, whose title is community champion at the Palliative Care Institute at Western Washington University.

Eaton and others, including retired PeaceHealth physician Meg Jacobson, who was board-certified in palliative medicine, said PeaceHealth broke a promise when it decided to cut palliative care after convincing donors to give more than $2 million to launch the program several years ago.

“PeaceHealth had assured us that we would keep it going,” Jacobson said. “And they just lied. I don’t know what they’re telling donors.”

In a May 16 statement to Cascadia Daily News, Bryan Stewart, system vice president for PeaceHealth’s Home and Community Division, said the health care provider couldn’t justify continuing the program, given the high cost of palliative care.

“On average, insurance reimbursement only covers 15–20 percent of the palliative care program costs,” Stewart said. “With rising costs across all service lines, it was simply not feasible to continue offering the comprehensive outpatient palliative program.”

Eaton said she understood PeaceHealth’s financial difficulties, but “the decimation of the outpatient palliative care program is particularly disturbing.”

“We raised millions of dollars with the promise that PeaceHealth would take it over in five years,” Eaton said. “I frankly feel betrayed.”

Stewart said the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center Foundation received a single, $1.25 million gift to launch the outpatient palliative care program, with an additional $1 million contributed by community members.

Stewart confirmed PeaceHealth had made a promise — with a caveat.

“The Foundation was clear with donors at the onset that PeaceHealth’s commitment was to support the palliative care program beyond the five-year Foundation investment, understanding that as the program evolved over time, operational changes might be necessary,” Stewart said. “Unfortunately, the stress caused by the pandemic on our health care system, coupled with under-reimbursement, high program expenses and relatively low number of patients served, led to the recently announced changes.”

In a recent review of its programs, PeaceHealth also decided to close its allergy clinic and overnight sleep lab.

A patient’s story

Karen Lerner was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma two and a half years ago, after doctors found a bleeding tumor in her brain. She learned about the cuts to palliative care on a recent phone call with her pharmacist.

“That was devastating to me and, I’m sure, to them,” Lerner said, referring to the palliative care workers who supported her. “It’s an amazing team of care providers and volunteers that can’t be replaced, as great as my personal care physician is.

Palliative care goes the extra mile for patients who are in extreme circumstances. PeaceHealth’s program cared for people diagnosed with cancer; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD; congestive heart failure; and those who “graduated from hospice,” Eaton said.

Lerner was an unusual case. The side effects to her treatments included painful reactions that even made certain clothing unbearable.

“My doctor says that I’m an outlier, but my skin hurts all the time,” Lerner said. Her palliative care pharmacist, nurse and physician “have been really good about never giving up, in terms of trying to find the best medication regimen for me.”

“A normal pharmacist, [primary care physician] or oncologist, they don’t have the time or the ability to really look into things and help solve problems.”

Lerner said PeaceHealth staff couldn’t tell her where to turn for comprehensive palliative care after May 26. She considers herself fortunate, however. She lined up remote palliative care through Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, where she has been receiving her cancer treatments.

“There are so many people who are isolated and don’t have the resources that I do, that are just going to fall through the cracks with this, I’m sure,” she said.

After the cuts to palliative care, Eaton predicts that many of the patients currently in the program will begin to cycle in and out of the emergency room.

“One hundred people is too much for one nurse and one social worker to manage,” Eaton said. “To be able to stay in your home and have your symptoms managed by a social worker, nurse, physician and chaplain means your quality of life is so much better.”

Stewart put the number of in-home palliative care patients at 64. He also emphasized that cancer patients will get additional care. An oncology physician assistant, he said, will “focus exclusively on the palliative care needs of this vulnerable population.”

PeaceHealth’s mission

Eaton said that palliative care may not be a money-maker for a health care provider, but it can be a money-saver.

“It gets people into hospice sooner, where they can be covered by Medicare,” she said. “It reduces the number of [emergency department] visits.”

Jacobson also acknowledged that palliative care places a financial burden on health care systems, noting that they can’t bill for the services of a social worker or a chaplain.

“And doctors who do palliative care don’t see enough patients to make money for the institution,” Jacobson said. “So it was always going to be something that they were going to have to commit to, as a mission-driven service.”

PeaceHealth’s mission statement, posted online, says, “We carry on the healing mission of Jesus Christ by promoting personal and community health, relieving pain and suffering, and treating each person in a loving and caring way.”

Lerner, a cancer patient, took a dim view of the statement.

“The ironic thing, if you look at the PeaceHealth mission statement, it’s supposed to be for the care and relief of pain and suffering,” she said. “Instead, it’s more like, ‘for-profit, tax-exempt.’ That seems to be their mission.”

Complete Article HERE!

Weighing Risks of a Major Surgery

— 7 Questions Older Americans Should Ask Their Surgeon

BY Judith Graham

Larry McMahon, who turns 80 this month, is weighing whether to undergo a major surgery. Over the past five years, his back pain has intensified. Physical therapy, muscle relaxants, and injections aren’t offering relief.

“It’s a pain that leaves me hardly able to do anything,” he said.

Should McMahon, a retired Virginia state trooper who now lives in Southport, North Carolina, try spinal fusion surgery, a procedure that can take up to six hours? (Eight years ago, he had a lumbar laminectomy, another arduous back surgery.)

“Will I recover in six months — or in a couple of years? Is it safe for a man of my age with various health issues to be put to sleep for a long period of time?” McMahon asked, relaying some of his concerns to me in a phone conversation.

Older adults contemplating major surgery often aren’t sure whether to proceed. In many cases, surgery can be lifesaving or improve a senior’s quality of life. But advanced age puts people at greater risk of unwanted outcomes, including difficulty with daily activities, extended hospitalizations, problems moving around, and the loss of independence.

I wrote in November about a new study that shed light on some risks seniors face when having invasive procedures. But readers wanted to know more. How does one determine if potential benefits from major surgery are worth the risks? And what questions should older adults ask as they try to figure this out? I asked several experts for their recommendations. Here’s some of what they suggested.

What’s the goal of this surgery? Ask your surgeon, “How is this surgery going to make things better for me?” said Margaret “Gretchen” Schwarze, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Will it extend your life by removing a fast-growing tumor? Will your quality of life improve by making it easier to walk? Will it prevent you from becoming disabled, akin to a hip replacement?

If your surgeon says, “We need to remove this growth or clear this blockage,” ask what impact that will have on your daily life. Just because an abnormality such as a hernia has been found doesn’t mean it has to be addressed, especially if you don’t have bothersome symptoms and the procedure comes with complications, said Drs. Robert Becher and Thomas Gill of Yale University, authors of that recent paper on major surgery in older adults.

If things go well, what can I expect? Schwarze, a vascular surgeon, often cares for patients with abdominal aortic aneurysms, an enlargement in a major blood vessel that can be life-threatening if it bursts.

Here’s how she describes a “best case” surgical scenario for that condition: “Surgery will be about four to five hours. When it’s over, you’ll be in the ICU with a breathing tube overnight for a day or two. Then, you’ll be in the hospital for another week or so. Afterwards, you’ll probably have to go to rehab to get your strength back, but I think you can get back home in three to four weeks, and it’ll probably take you two to three months to feel like you did before surgery.”

Among other things people might ask their surgeon, according to a patient brochure Schwarze’s team has created: What will my daily life look like right after surgery? Three months later? One year later? Will I need help, and for how long? Will tubes or drains be inserted?

If things don’t go well, what can I expect? A “worst case” scenario might look like this, according to Schwarze: “You have surgery, and you go to the ICU, and you have serious complications. You have a heart attack. Three weeks after surgery, you’re still in the ICU with a breathing tube, and you’ve lost most of your strength, and there’s no chance of ever getting home again. Or, the surgery didn’t work, and still you’ve gone through all this.”

“People often think I’ll just die on the operating table if things go wrong,” said Dr. Emily Finlayson, director of the UCSF Center for Surgery in Older Adults in San Francisco. “But we’re very good at rescuing people, and we can keep you alive for a long time. The reality is, there can be a lot of pain and suffering and interventions like feeding tubes and ventilators if things don’t go the way we hope.”

Given my health, age, and functional status, what’s the most likely outcome? Once your surgeon has walked you through various scenarios, ask, “Do I really need to have this surgery, in your opinion?” and “What outcomes do you think are most likely for me?” Finlayson advised. Research suggests that older adults who are frail, have cognitive impairment, or other serious conditions such as heart disease have worse experiences with major surgery. Also, seniors in their 80s and 90s are at higher risk of things going wrong.

“It’s important to have family or friends in the room for these conversations with high-risk patients,” Finlayson said. Many seniors have some level of cognitive difficulties and may need assistance working through complex decisions.

What are the alternatives? Make sure your physician tells you what the nonsurgical options are, Finlayson said. Older men with prostate cancer, for instance, might want to consider “watchful waiting,” ongoing monitoring of their symptoms, rather than risk invasive surgery. Women in their 80s who develop a small breast cancer may opt to leave it alone if removing it poses a risk, given other health factors.

Because of Larry McMahon’s age and underlying medical issues (a 2021 knee replacement that hasn’t healed, arthritis, high blood pressure), his neurosurgeon suggested he explore other interventions, including more injections and physical therapy, before surgery. “He told me, ‘I make my money from surgery, but that’s a last resort,” McMahon said.

What can I do to prepare myself? “Preparing for surgery is really vital for older adults: If patients do a few things that doctors recommend — stop smoking, lose weight, walk more, eat better — they can decrease the likelihood of complications and the number of days spent in the hospital,” said Dr. Sandhya Lagoo-Deenadayalan, a leader in Duke University Medical Center’s Perioperative Optimization of Senior Health program.

When older patients are recommended to POSH, they receive a comprehensive evaluation of their medications, nutritional status, mobility, preexisting conditions, ability to perform daily activities, and support at home. They leave with a “to-do” list of recommended actions, usually starting several weeks before surgery.

If your hospital doesn’t have a program of this kind, ask your physician, “How can I get my body and mind ready” before having surgery, Finlayson said. Also ask: “How can I prepare my home in advance to anticipate what I’ll need during recovery?”

What will recovery look like? There are three levels to consider: What will recovery in the hospital entail? Will you be transferred to a facility for rehabilitation? And what will recovery be like at home?

Ask how long you’re likely to stay in the hospital. Will you have pain, or aftereffects from the anesthesia? Preserving cognition is a concern, and you might want to ask your anesthesiologist what you can do to maintain cognitive functioning following surgery. If you go to a rehab center, you’ll want to know what kind of therapy you’ll need and whether you can expect to return to your baseline level of functioning.

During the covid-19 pandemic, “a lot of older adults have opted to go home instead of to rehab, and it’s really important to make sure they have appropriate support,” said Dr. Rachelle Bernacki, director of care transformation and postoperative services at the Center for Geriatric Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

For some older adults, a loss of independence after surgery may be permanent. Be sure to inquire what your options are should that occur.

Complete Article HERE!

A new vision for death and dying

— The Lancet Commission on the Value of Death

The story of dying in the 21st century is a story of paradox. Covid-19 has meant people have died the ultimate medicalised deaths, often alone in hospitals with little communication with their families. But in other settings, including in some lower income countries, many people remain undertreated, dying of preventable conditions and without access to basic pain relief. The unbalanced and contradictory picture of death and dying is the basis for the Lancet Commission on the Value of Death. Drawing on multidisciplinary perspectives from around the globe, the Commissioners argue that death and life are bound together: without death there would be no life. The Commission proposes a new vision for death and dying, with greater community involvement alongside health and social care services, and increased bereavement support.

‘Don’t Let Me Die in Pain,’ My Patient Pleaded

— We must better manage the suffering of patients with a history of substance use disorder

By Ramandeep Kaur, MD

I still recall the look on my patient’s face and her words 2 years later.

“I am done with this life,” she told me. “Don’t let me die in pain,” she added as she folded her hands to physically plead with me.

I simply cannot convey in words how painful it was to witness the agony of this patient.

Here is what happened: My hospital requested a consultation for cancer pain management involving a relatively young patient with metastatic pancreatic cancer. Making matters worse, she was admitted with a severe apparent infection and displayed signs of failure to thrive with anorexia/cachexia. And then there was the pain, which doctors called intractable.

Typically, such pain cannot be cured and is merely managed at best.

My partner physician on the case treated the young patient for several days. There was a documented recommendation of “NO IV OPIOIDS,” citing past medical history of use of injected heroin.

One day, as I entered the patient’s room, I saw that she was fragile, moaning loudly in pain. She was visibly distressed, holding her belly. “I need some pain medicine,” she said immediately.

As I introduced myself and inquired about her pain, she held my hand and said, “Listen, Doc, I have lived in pain my entire life. I beg you, do not let me die in pain.”

Pain is the most prevalent and debilitating symptom in advanced cancer and at the end of life. Opioids are the mainstay treatment for cancer pain treatment. It is challenging when patients with a history of substance use disorder with opioid-type medication get diagnosed with cancer.

According to CDC data, about 107,600 Americans died in 2021 from a drug overdose despite a 44% reduction in prescription opioids from 2011 to 2020.

Since the start of the opioid epidemic, there has been a more significant push by federal agencies like FDA and CDC to decrease opioid prescriptions with no backup options in treating patients’ pain and mental health illnesses like substance use disorder. Abrupt brakes were applied to prescription opioids, forcing patients to resort even more to illegal means of obtaining pain medications on the street.

As expected, physicians and other clinic providers often fear prescribing opioids. This is even more of a reality when patients with a history of substance use are in their last days of life and dying from another disease like terminal cancer, and healthcare workers cite that they are not comfortable prescribing opioids in the current setting.


Substance use disorder is a mental health illness. As of 2015, approximately 10% of U.S. adults had drug use disorder at some point in their lives, and about 4% had met the criteria for drug use disorder in the past year. Additionally, 3.4% of Americans ages 12 and older misuse opioids at least once over a 12-month period. The COVID pandemic added oil on the burning flame of poor mental health.

Given the high prevalence of various types of cancer, many of these patients with a history of substance use disorder may get diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. But their mental illness will leave them unqualified to receive pain medications like morphine or buprenorphine to treat severe pain.

Do they deserve to die in pain because they suffered from addiction to illegal substances? People with drug use and mental health issues need the same empathy, compassion, and treatment as any other person.

What Can Be Done?

A multi-disciplinary team approach ensuring close collaboration among palliative and addiction specialists, psychologists, and supportive oncology is the need of the hour. The teams can thoroughly support and evaluate the patient and determine whether prescribing opioids is the most appropriate option. This approach will also help ensure patients aren’t handed-off between various specialties without continuity, leaving them with a sense of abandonment and increasing mistrust between the patient and the medical field.

The palliative subspecialty group is ethically bound to take care of their patients in the last phase of life, relieve their suffering to the best of their ability, and assist with a peaceful transition to the end of life. In my opinion, the presence of inherent empathy and additional training would produce real gems of palliative physicians who can provide comprehensive care to all patients with life-limiting diseases.

We must work with patients on a treatment plan that the provider and patient are comfortable with and maximize the quality of life for the short time the patient has left. The fear of opioid addiction should not cause needless suffering or lead patients to die in pain.

The stigmatization of medically complex patients with mental illness at the hands of the providers is not only unacceptable but morally unethical and reflects discrimination in the medical field. The situation is indescribable when such a patient also suffers from a terminal illness.

Complete Article HERE!

For Terminal Patients, the Barrier to Aid in Dying Can Be a State Line

Complex restrictions are preventing patients from accessing medical aid in dying, even in states where it is allowed. New legal and legislative efforts are pushing to change that.

Dr. Nicholas Gideonse, a hospice medical director and doctor at Oregon Health & Science University.

By Paula Span

Five years ago, Dr. Nicholas Gideonse spoke with an older man who had received a terminal cancer diagnosis and was hoping to use Oregon’s medical aid-in-dying law.

Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, in effect since 1997, permits doctors, after a complex process of requests and waiting periods, to prescribe lethal medication for dying patients to self-ingest.

The nonprofit group End of Life Choices Oregon had referred the man to Dr. Gideonse, a primary care doctor at Oregon Health & Science University and a hospice medical director, who had already helped many patients use the law.

But this time he could not. “I’m really sorry,” he told the man on the phone. “I’m not going to be able to help you with this.” Oregon’s law — and all the laws that permit medical aid in dying in 10 states and in Washington, D.C. — has residency requirements. This man would have qualified — except for that fact he lived in nearby Washington State.

The patient’s response, Dr. Gideonse recalled, was “stunned silence, deep disappointment.” A number of Dr. Gideonse’s primary care patients drive 20 to 30 minutes across the Washington border to his office in Portland. There, he can offer them any medical service he is qualified to provide — except that one — without proof of residency. And although Washington has its own aid-in-dying law, its southwestern region has few providers who can help patients use it.

Last month Dr. Gideonse, backed by pro bono lawyers and Compassion & Choices, an advocacy group for expanding end-of-life options, filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the residency requirement for Oregon’s aid-in-dying law is unconstitutional. “I realized how important this could be for patients seeking access,” he said.

The lawsuit is one of several legal and legislative efforts around the country to reduce the requirements that patients must contend with in order to receive aid in dying. In some states, lawmakers have already broadened the types of health care providers that can participate, or have shortened waiting periods or allowed waivers.

“I think of it as MAID 2.0,” said Thaddeus Pope, an end-of-life bioethicist at Mitchell Hamline School of Law who tracks such actions, referring to the acronym for medical aid in dying. “We found out there’s an access problem.” He added, “We set all these safeguards and eligibility requirements and they locked a lot of people out.”

Oregon led the shift in easing access, amending its law in 2019. The state previously required patients to make two verbal requests for life-ending medication, at least 15 days apart, to ensure that they had not changed their minds. Now, if the patient is unlikely to survive that long, their doctor can waive the 15-day waiting period.

“Fifteen days is everything when you are suffering,” said Kim Callinan, the president and chief executive of Compassion & Choices, which supported the change. “People who are eligible for the law are hitting roadblocks and barriers.”

In 2016, for example, Youssef Cohen, a political scientist at New York University, took the extraordinary step of moving across the country to use the Oregon law as he was dying of mesothelioma at 68. “He wanted the option to determine the end of his life,” said his wife, Lindsay Wright, who is an associate dean at the university.

To establish residency, the couple had to hurriedly sign an apartment lease, obtain an ID from the state motor vehicle agency, transfer medical records and arrange an immediate appointment with a Portland doctor to qualify for medical aid in dying. Dr. Cohen then faced the 15-day waiting period.

“He didn’t make it,” Dr. Wright said. “He died six days after we arrived. And he suffered.”

A 2018 study from the Kaiser Permanente health system in Southern California showed that about one-third of qualifying patients died before they could complete the process.

New Mexico, which in June became the most recent state to legalize medical aid in dying, has adopted a markedly less restrictive approach than other states. The largely rural state is the first to allow not only doctors but advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants to help determine eligibility and write prescriptions for lethal medication. “In some communities, they’re the only providers,” said Representative Deborah Armstrong, a Democrat and the bill’s primary sponsor.

Although a doctor must also affirm that a patient is terminally ill, New Mexico patients can skip that step if they have already enrolled in hospice, as most do. The patient need only make one written request, rather than two or more requests, as other states require. A 48-hour waiting period between when the prescription is written and when it is filled can be waived. “People walk up and tell me how thankful they are to have this option if they need it,” Ms. Armstrong said.

California has simplified its 2016 law as well. In October, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that, starting in January, reduces the 15-day wait between verbal requests to 48 hours and eliminates the requirement for a third written “attestation.”

Similar bills died during the most recent legislative sessions in Hawaii, Washington and Vermont, but will be reintroduced, Ms. Callinan said. And in many states — including Delaware, Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Arizona — new aid-in-dying bills, if passed, will ease requirements for patients or expand the kinds of providers who may participate.

On the legal front, the Oregon lawsuit filed by Dr. Gideonse argues that residency requirements for aid in dying violate two sections of the U.S. Constitution, one barring state laws that limit the ability of a nonresident to access medical care and one prohibiting state laws that burden interstate commerce. The state must respond by Dec. 27.

“This is the only medical procedure we can think of that is limited by someone’s ZIP code,” said Kevin Diaz, the chief legal advocacy officer at Compassion & Choices.

A separate federal class action suit claims that California’s law, which like the others requires patients to self-administer the drugs that end their lives, discriminates against patients dying of neurodegenerative diseases that make it physically impossible to take medication without assistance.

The plaintiffs, charging violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act and California law, include patients with multiple sclerosis and A.L.S., also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and their doctors. (In denying a request for a preliminary injunction, a judge ruled in September that the plaintiffs were asking California “to cross the line to euthanasia.”)

Catholic organizations, anti-abortion advocates and some disability groups continue to oppose aid in dying. The California Catholic Conference, the church’s public policy organization, for example, argued in June that liberalizing the state’s law “puts patients at risk of abuse and the early and unwillful termination of life.”

But polls regularly report broad public support. Last year, Gallup found that 74 percent of respondents agreed that doctors should be allowed to end patients’ lives “by some painless means” if they and their families request it.

Liberalizing the laws will likely increase participation, the bioethicist Dr. Pope predicts. “We know from evidence around the world that if you reduce the waiting period, or allow waivers in certain cases, it materially expands access,” he said.

Experts do not expect a major surge, however. Even in states where the practice has been legal for years, aid in dying accounts for very few deaths, a fraction of one percent. Of those who successfully navigate the process, moreover, about one-third do not use the drugs and instead die of their diseases.

Still, should Dr. Gideonse prevail in his lawsuit and a likely appeal, residency requirements in other regions might also start to fall. That could allow New York or Pennsylvania patients to use New Jersey’s aid-in-dying law, for instance, or Maryland and Virginia residents to seek providers in Washington, D.C.

It is an outcome that would please Dr. Gideonse. “This is an action in support of a needed and very important service,” he said. “I’m optimistic.”

Complete Article HERE!

Doctor accused of killing 14 patients with fentanyl acquitted of murder

William Husel hugs his wife, Mariah Baird, after the doctor was found not guilty on 14 counts of murder in connection with fentanyl overdose deaths of former patients on April 20 in Columbus, Ohio.

By Brittany Shammas & Timothy Bella

William Husel, an Ohio doctor who was accused of killing 14 patients with what prosecutors described as “wildly excessive” doses of fentanyl between 2015 and 2018, was acquitted on all counts of murder Wednesday, concluding one of the most significant murder cases of its kind against a health-care professional.

Husel, a onetime physician of the year trained at the Cleveland Clinic, faced one count of murder for each of the 14 critically ill patients he was accused of killing. The jury deliberated for seven days before finding him not guilty on all 14 counts in what was one of the largest murder trials in Ohio history.

He had been charged with causing or hastening their deaths amid a period of lax oversight of fentanyl at Mount Carmel West, a Catholic hospital in Columbus. Husel would have faced life in prison with just one guilty verdict.

While the synthetic opioid is significantly more powerful than morphine and has wreaked havoc on American streets, it can provide pain relief in medical settings that is crucial to end-of-life care. The alleged victims in the Ohio case suffered critical medical conditions including overdoses, cancer, strokes and internal bleeding. Prosecutors acknowledged that all were being kept alive on ventilators and that many of them were dying.

“In truth, William Husel was an innocent man, and thank goodness the justice system prevailed,” Jose Baez, one of Husel’s defense attorneys, told reporters.

The 46-year-old’s acquittal came after a two-month trial that triggered a debate on end-of-life medical care. Husel and Baez argued in the trial that the doctor offered comfort care for dying patients and was not trying to kill them. They pointed out that the doctor’s actions did not occur in secret — nurses were the ones to administer the doses — and alleged that hospital officials made Husel the villain after realizing the systemic failures at play. The fallout over the allegations at Mount Carmel West had repercussions: the firing of 23 employees; the resignation of the hospital’s chief executive, chief clinical officer and chief pharmacy officer; and Medicare and Medicaid funding for the institution was put in jeopardy.

But Franklin County prosecutors alleged that Husel gave patients amounts of the opioid far beyond the norm. He ordered 1,000 micrograms of fentanyl for multiple patients — about 10 times the recommended dosage, according to prosecutors. One of the patients, 82-year-old Melissa Penix, was given 2,000 micrograms of fentanyl — 20 vials of it, all at once. The amount of fentanyl given to her, which was about 20 times the recommended dosage, depleted the entire supply of the medication available in the ICU that night, Franklin County Assistant Prosecutor David Zeyen told jurors.

Joel Zivot, an associate professor of anesthesiology and surgery at Emory University and the sole witness called by Husel’s defense, told The Washington Post that he was relieved the jury determined that disease, not fentanyl, caused the 14 deaths.

“Physicians intend to provide comfort at the end of a person’s life, and the idea that the intent was murder simply by the action by giving someone pain control was unprecedented and ultimately shown to be a false accusation,” Zivot said.

The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office released a statement commending the prosecution and defense for their work, adding that the office accepted the jury’s finding Husel not guilty.

“The Jury after review of all the evidence was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that William Husel was guilty of any charges submitted to them,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement. “We accept the jury verdict.”

The case came to light in the fall of 2018 when, Mount Carmel West has said, pharmacists voiced concerns about doses ordered by Husel, an anesthesiologist who had been employed at the hospital about five years and worked on the skeleton crew of overnight intensive care. He was well liked in the ICU and known for his willingness to teach those who worked alongside him.

In total, at least 35 people may have been given excessive doses, the hospital said after a review. All of them died; the hospital said five might have had a chance to improve. Officials alerted police, and Husel was charged in June 2019 with 25 counts of murder. Prosecutors dropped 11 of the charges.

During closing arguments in the trial this month, Zeyen argued that even if the patients were dying and Husel thought he was acting in their best interest, killing them still constitutes as a crime.

“That is what you do to sick animals. That’s fine in veterinary science,” Zeyen said. “That is not fine in the ICU at Mount Carmel.”

Baez responded by referring to Husel’s pledging to provide comfort to the patients, noting that the doctor had much to lose.

“Why would this man risk his family, his career, 17 years of trying to be a doctor, every single thing he has worked for, to hasten someone’s death or to kill them?” Baez asked during closing arguments.

Zivot told The Post that he reviewed each of the cases and concluded that Husel offered the kind of care that any doctor would have provided for end-of-life treatment.

“Dr. Husel did the thing that doctors do in that he provided some fentanyl for the purpose of mitigating what we imagine to be the pain of dying, and that’s it,” he said. “We cannot know what it feels like to die; we can only imagine it. We fear it, and we are concerned about that. If we can’t stop someone from dying, at least we can reduce the pain associated with dying.”

When Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Holbrook read each verdict of not guilty, Husel’s wife, Mariah Baird, watched and smiled before hugging her sister, reported the Columbus Dispatch. After all 14 counts came back as not guilty, Husel wiped away tears.

Even with his acquittal in the murder trial, Husel still faces more than 10 lawsuits from the families of patients. Several of the families have settled lawsuits worth about $13.5 million, according to NBC News.

Baez emphasized to reporters that he felt “terrible for all of the patients’ families suffering again.” But, he said, he hoped they took comfort knowing that a jury concluded that it was their loved ones’ critical illnesses, and not the opioid, that resulted in their deaths.

“Hopefully they take solace that their loved ones’ last moments were in peace and not as a result of a doctor being afraid to make them comfortable,” he said

Complete Article HERE!

Psychedelics Could Be New Frontier in End-of-Life Care

By Jim Parker

Psychedelic medicines may represent a new frontier for end-of-life care, as well as psychiatric treatment. While these substances — including LSD, MDMA, psilocybin and ketamine, among others — remain illegal, grass roots support for decriminalization or medical use is growing. Meanwhile, venture capitalists and other investors are spending billions to get on the ground floor of what could become a new health care industry. 

Much of the research and discussion on medical use of psychedelics has focused on care at the end of life. Interest in the potential medical benefits of these substances became widespread during the 1960s, but research all but stopped after they were criminalized through federal legislation in 1970. The first inklings of a resurgence began in the late 1990s, and momentum has picked up during the last decade.

“The evidence is just so compelling, and we have very little in terms of tools in our medical bag to be able to help people who are suffering from existential distress, anxiety and depression related to a serious illness diagnosis,” Shoshana Ungerleider, M.D., internist at Crossover Health in San Francisco, founder of the organization End Well, said. “We want people to be able to live fully until they die. If psychedelics given in a controlled therapeutic environment with trained clinicians who can help them do that, then these medicines should be more widely available.”

End Well recently produced a conference on the subject of psychedelic medicine for dying patients.

The body of scientific literature on psychedelics for dying patients continues to advance. Johns Hopkins Medicine in 2019 established a Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research backed by $17 million in grants.

Researchers have identified a number of clinical benefits, including reduction of anxiety, depression and improved acceptance of mortality, according to a 2019 literature review in the journal Current Oncology. The paper cited studies indicating that the most commonly used psychedelic drugs have no tissue toxicity, do not interfere with liver function, have few interactions with other medications and carry no long-term physical effects. Common side effects tend to be short in duration, such as nausea and vomiting or disruption of visual or spatial orientation.

Patients who use psychedelic medicines often report what researchers commonly describe as a “mystical experience,” involving a feeling of unity, sacredness, deeply-felt positive mood, transcendence of space and time, and other effects that study participants found difficult to verbalize, according to the Current Oncology paper. 

“This can be transformative for people with anyone who is wracked with trauma, grief, loss or extreme states of suffering,” Sunil Aggarwal, M.D., co-founder, co-director and practitioner at the Advanced Integrative Medical Science (AIMS) Institute in Seattle, told Hospice News. “There’s also evidence that these substances can also reduce physical pain.”

Aggarwal is a board-certified hospice and palliative care physician and a past chair of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM).

All psychedelics are illegal at the federal level and in most states. Oregon in 2020 became the first in the union to remove criminal penalties for all illegal drugs and is now in the process of establishing the nation’s first state-licensed psilocybin-assisted therapy system.

More action has been happening at the local level, with communities such as Washington, D.C., Denver, Ann Arbor, Mich., three Massachusetts cities, and Santa Cruz and Oakland in California voting to decriminalize some psychedelics and permit medical use. Some of these regions are now considering statewide decriminalization.

Connecticut and Texas each have laws on the books that created work groups to study the medical use of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine. Legislatures in Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, Vermont and New York state are currently mulling decriminalization or medical use bills.

In late July, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) reintroduced an amendment to remove federal barriers to research the therapeutic potential of psychedelic substances. The U.S. House of Representatives quickly shot down the legislation, though it garnered more support this round than the previous time it was introduced.

“We quite a few years off from having enough trained therapists and a policy pathway for which these can be made more widely available in a controlled therapeutic setting,” Ungerleider said. “There’s just so much interest right now among patients and among family members to learn more about this. All health care professionals need to have an understanding of where we’re at with psychedelics.”

Interest in psychedelics has transcended the research space and entered the business world. The familiar adage, “follow the money,” frequently provides good indicators of which way the wind is blowing.

The psychedelics industry is expected to bring in more than $6.85 billion by 2027, Forbes reported. Many of these investors are seeking to reproduce the lucrative results of the cannabis industry that emerged in the wake of legalization among a number of states. A recent report indicated that 36 states and four territories allow use of medical cannabis products, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The largest investors in psychedelics include the venture capital firms Conscious Fund, Explorer Equity Group and Pala Santo. Earlier this year, Florida-based cannabis and psychedelics attorney Dustin Robinson co-founded Iter Investments, a new venture capital group focused on that sector.

A United Kingdom-based psychedelics-focused pharmaceutical company, Compass Pathways (NASDAQ: CMPS), went public in Sept. 2020 and is now worth an estimated $1.2 billion.

“There’s a unique opportunity to be able to go ahead and develop and commercialize [psychedelics] to a much larger patient population,” health care investor and venture capitalist Andrew Lee told Hospice News. “It’ll be interesting to see how natural pharmaceuticals might work. There’s the nonprofit, sacred path, the pharma path and the botanical drug sort of path. The most important thing is that this is another tool in the toolbox for treating a number of conditions.”

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