Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario

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RNAO welcomes broad-based public inquiry into nursing home deaths at the hands of Elizabeth Wettlaufer

2017-08-01

TORONTO, Aug. 1, 2017 – A broad-based public inquiry should address concerns about the health and well-being of Ontarians living in nursing homes, says the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO).

The government of Ontario launched the inquiry today and appointed Justice Eileen Gillese to lead it. The announcement comes one month after former nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer pleaded guilty to the murders of eight elderly nursing home residents, the attempted murder of four other seniors, and two charges of aggravated assault.

RNAO is pleased the province answered its call for an independent public inquiry to get to the bottom of the events surrounding Wettlaufer’s horrific actions and, in particular, address the systemic factors to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring.

“We are pleased the government listened to our request to set up a public inquiry with a broad mandate. We now urge Justice Gillese to exercise her full authority to make recommendations that will address the failings of our current system, including examining legislation and regulations, funding models and staffing, and any other aspects required to create a safer environment for seniors living in nursing homes,” says Doris Grinspun, RNAO's chief executive officer.

Last week, the College of Nurses of Ontario (CNO) held a discipline hearing where they found Wettlaufer guilty of professional misconduct and revoked her nursing license. During the hearing, the CNO revealed that no investigation was launched in 2014 after Wettlaufer was fired from her workplace due to a medication error that had endangered the life of a resident, and a history of other medication errors. CNO also revealed that the former nurse had been the subject of an investigation in 1995 when she was terminated from a hospital after stealing Lorazepam from her employer, a medication commonly used to treat anxiety.

Grinspun says the inquiry must delve deeply into when and how regulatory colleges tackle disciplinary issues, including CNO's ability to investigate and discipline its members, and whether third parties have a duty to report concerns when a nurse is not practising safely. RNAO also wants to see employers mandated to disclose termination notices and any issues related to patient safety to prospective employers during reference checks.

Carol Timmings, RNAO’s president, says no inquiry would be complete without a thorough examination of the Ministry of Health’s long-term care inspection process and how the Office of the Chief Coroner reports and reviews deaths that occur in nursing homes. She says the inquiry must also examine how the government funds the long-term care sector and current regulations for staffing requirements. “We want the public to know that the overwhelming majority of nurses go to work with the intention of providing safe and quality care to nursing home residents. However, many do so under extremely challenging staffing conditions,” says Timmings.

“The killing of eight residents is a horrific tragedy, and our hearts go out to the family members of the victims. They need answers, and Ontarians need to know they can trust nursing homes and the health professionals caring for their loved ones,” adds Timmings. “It is good to see that this investigation is going beyond the particulars of this shocking case. It is the only way we can rebuild that trust, and ensure this never happens again.”

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve. For more information about RNAO, visit our website at RNAO.ca. You can also check out our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

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To arrange an interview, please contact:

Marion Zych, Director of Communications, RNAO
Cell: 647-406-5605 / Office: 416-408-5605
Toll free: 1-800-268-7199 ext. 209
mzych@rnao.org