Public inquiry sparked by serial-killing nurse to deliver report Wednesday

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WOODSTOCK, Ont. — A commission examining the circumstances that allowed a nurse to kill eight elderly patients in her care is expected to deliver a report Wednesday aimed at preventing such crimes in the future.

The public inquiry, which took place last year, was announced after Elizabeth Wettlaufer pleaded guilty in 2017 to eight counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault in a series of incidents that spanned nearly a decade.

She was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

The inquiry heard that Wettlaufer was the subject of complaints from the start of her career in 1995 through her confession in 2016, and had been fired twice, the second time over multiple medication errors.

The former Ontario nurse injected patients with overdoses of insulin, and told lawyers with the inquiry that she chose the drug because it wasn’t tracked where she worked.

In an interview entered as evidence in the inquiry, Wettlaufer told lawyers she wouldn’t have been able to carry out eight murders if more controls were in place on medication at long-term care homes.

Wettlaufer told police in 2016 that the killings were motivated by a variety of reasons, and sometimes sparked by interactions with an unruly patient at work, but were not planned long in advance.

The judge, police and Crown attorney in her criminal case all said she wouldn’t have been caught without her confession.

Seven of the patients Wettlaufer killed were residents of Caressant Care in Woodstock, Ont., and the inquiry heard she committed her first murder not long after she started working there in June 2007. She had previously injected two patients who survived.

Wettlaufer was later hired by the Meadow Park care home in London, Ont., and killed a 75-year-old resident there in August 2014.

Caressant Care told the inquiry it never suspected her crimes despite the numerous issues with her work performance. The company added it does not believe anything at the home “facilitated or concealed” the killings.

“Given what we know from (Wettlaufer’s) confession about her motives … it is submitted that the crimes that she committed at (Caressant Care in Woodstock) could have been committed in any Ontario’s long-term care homes over the same period,” it said in its closing remarks.

Relatives of Wettlaufer’s victims also made submissions to the inquiry, seeking improvements to the province’s long-term care system.

Among them were calls for more substantive reference checks at facilities, changes to inspection protocols at Ontario’s health ministry, and standardization of death investigation practices among the province’s coroners.

The children of Wettlaufer’s first victim, James Silcox, have expressed doubts that the inquiry would bring about meaningful change.

In a joint submission, the family said it was not hopeful the issues raised by the proceedings would be resolved “without radical changes to the collective attitude towards the long-term care system as represented by the government of Ontario.”

The inquiry’s commissioner, Eileen Gillese, has said the process is about healing “broken trust” in the long-term care system.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press