The Ontario government will call a public inquiry into long-term care, it announced hours after former nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer was sentenced to life in prison for killing eight people in long-term care homes.

"On behalf of the Ontario government, we want to express our deepest condolences to the victims, their families and the communities in Woodstock and London and the surrounding areas. What happened was a tragedy. That's why we are establishing an independent public inquiry to look into the circumstances in this case," a statement from the province reads.

The statement was put out by the attorney general and the minister of health and long-term care.

"We want to assure the public that Ontario's 78,000 long-term care residents are safe in their homes," the statement said.

Advocacy groups for seniors have been calling for a public inquiry since former nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer was charged with killing eight residents in nursing homes where she was the night supervisor.

Earlier Monday, Wettlaufer was sentenced in Superior Court in Woodstock to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

"This is heinous. We need to make sure this never happens again," Wanda Morris, the vice-president of advocacy for CARP, a national seniors' group, said of the murders.

"A public inquiry is needed to figure out what went wrong and to make sure we never have it repeat. What stands out to me is the multiple ways in which the system failed these people."

​Earlier in June, Wettlaufer pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault.

She used insulin to drug and kill the elderly patients in her care in long-term care homes in London and Woodstock.

During victim impact statements, court heard that family members and friends feel guilty they didn't notice anything amiss with their loved ones under Wettlaufer's care, and some said they feel unsafe sending other relatives to long-term care facilities.

Abuse widespread, advocate says

Wettlaufer killed between 2007 and 2014, and said she alluded to her crimes several times, though no one ever reported her.

"I think that the abuses are even more widespread than we imagine," Morris said. "There is widespread harm and abuse and neglect, and we need to have an inquiry to make sure we can uncover what is really going on and take steps to repair it."

Long-term care homes need additional funding, Morris said.

There were problems with Wettlaufer — who had a history of problems administering medication — that were missed, said Jane Meadus, a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for Elderly (ACE).

The College of Nurses didn't revoke Wettlaufer's licence until after she was charged with murder, Meadus said.

"There were red flags about her ability to care for residents and they were not followed up in a way that makes people comfortable," she said.

CARP and ACE want the inquiry to look at the following things:

  • The actions of long-term care staff.
  • The long-term care home inspection process.
  • The ability of the College of Nurses to investigate and discipline its members.
  • The coroner's office and its investigations.
  • Funding and governance of long-term care homes.
  • The duty of third parties to report possible crimes.

Wettlaufer case 'tip of the iceberg'

​The Wettlaufer case is "the tip of the iceberg," Meadus said.

"More typically, I think is there's neglect and negligence and they're not being noticed by the system for exactly the same reasons as those that didn't get noticed in Wettlaufer's case," Meadus said.

"People are dying under circumstances that aren't investigated and there's no justice for them."

The province's statement said the inquiry will give "the answers we need to help ensure a tragedy such as this does not happen again."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that the College of Nurses didn't revoke Wettlaufer's licence until after she was charged with murder. In fact Wettlaufer had resigned her membership with the College on Sept 30, 2016.
    Jun 27, 2017 5:57 PM ET