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Public inquiry announced to investigate Elizabeth Wettlaufer murders that took place between 2007 and 2014

By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel-Review

Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas reads the reasoning for his decision in the sentencing of Elizabeth Wettlaufer. (CHARLES VINCENT, The London Free Press)

Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas reads the reasoning for his decision in the sentencing of Elizabeth Wettlaufer. (CHARLES VINCENT, The London Free Press)

WOODSTOCK - 

 

No sooner was Elizabeth Wettlaufer sentenced for her crimes than Ontario moved to set up an inquiry into the former nurse’s eight murders at two Southwestern Ontario nursing homes.

Demands for a public inquiry had grown since the start of June, when Wettlaufer pleaded guilty to murdering eight long-term care home residents with insulin injections, and trying to kill four others.

Early reaction, from groups pushing for a wider probe, was cautiously optimistic.

“We eagerly await the terms of the inquiry to ensure that its scope is sufficient to address the actions, responsibilities and duties of the many institutions and individuals who failed to prevent or put a timely stop to Wettlaufer’s crimes,” said Wanda Morris of CARP, the Canadian Assocation of Retired Persons.

“Individuals across the province have had their confidence in long-term care homes in Ontario severely shaken,” she said.

Monday, Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi and Health Minister Eric Hoskins said a formal inquiry will be held into the cirumstances of the deaths involving residents of Woodstock’s Caressant Care and London’s Meadow Park long-term care homes.

The Liberal government is moving to appoint a commissioner to lead the inquiry, the details of which are being finalized and will be publicly shared once approved by the cabinet.

“What happened was a tragedy. That’s why we are establishing an independent public inquiry to look into the circumstances in this case,” the ministers said in their statement.

Jane Meadus, a lawyer and institutional advocate for the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, said she hopes the terms of the inquiry will be enough to make real change.

“We urge them to ensure that the scope is broad enough to look fully into the individual and systemic failures so that meaningful change can occur to prevent further tragedies and protect the vulnerable residents of Ontario’s long-term care homes,” Meadus said.

The head of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, Doris Grinspun, said her group did not “lightly” ask for an inquiry, noting the only time it do before was during Ontario’s deadly 2003 SARS oubreak.

“I tip my hat to the government for the courage to open a public inquiry and I respect that,” Grinspun said. “This is a government that is listening.”

Monday, Wettlaufer was sentenced to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 25 years after pleading guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder, four of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault — all, involving vulnerable elderly people who were in her care.

Eighteen months ago, Ontario’s oversight of its about 630 long-term care homes came under harsh review by its own auditor general, who in a report noted a backlog of home inspections for so-called “critical incidents” — things that must immediately be reported, like fire, neglect or abuse of residents, improper care or unexpected deaths — had doubled over 15 months.

Two years earlier, the government was found breaking its own nursing-home inspection law, to which it responded by hiring an extra 100 inspectors.

Hoskins and Naqvi offered condolences on behalf of the government to Wettlaufer’s victims, but said despite her crimes the 78,000 residents of Ontario’s publicly funded long-term care homes are safe.

Grinspun said an inquiry into Wettlaufer’s crimes would offer a chance to “tighten the system to improve the lives of residents of nursing homes in Ontario and ensuring such a tragedy never happens again.”

Seven of the people Wettlaufer killed between 2007 and 2014 lived at Caressant Care in Woodstock, from which she was fired, court documents show, after allegations of repeated medication-related errors.

Despite that, she went on to work at Meadow Park in London, where her final murder victim lived.

Oxford MPP Ernie Hardeman, in whose riding most of the murders occurred, said an inquiry could lead to an explanation of the “depth of the problem,” but she criticized the government for how long it took to make the announcement.

“I have spent weeks listening to the victims’ families and the community about their concerns in this case,” said the Progressive Conservative legislator.

“It remains unthinkable how eight vulnerable people could have been killed with no one noticing — or worse, turning a blind eye. The public deserves answers,” he said.

 

— Woodstock Sentinel-Review

In the open letter to the Ontario Premier, CARP and the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly write:

It is imperative that the Public Inquiry have a broad scope, which would inquire into, among other things:

 

  • the actions of the long-term care home and its staff
  • the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and its inspection process
  • the College of Nurses and its ability to investigate and discipline its members
  • the Office of the Chief Coroner and its death reporting and review system
  • the Government’s funding and governance of long-term care
  • the duty of third parties to report; and
  • all other related matters.

 

HRivers@postmedia.ca