British Columbia

Former B.C. nurse fined more than $17K for exploiting elderly couple in 'very unusual' relationship

Laurie Tinkham developed a 'very unusual' bond with a Vancouver Island couple after she met them working for Nurse Next Door, according to a disciplinary notice.

College says Laurie Tinkham 'crossed a line' after she met the couple working as their nurse

A nurse in B.C. has been fined thousands after an investigation found she violated professional boundaries in a "very unusual" relationship with an elderly couple. (AFP/Getty Images)

A former Vancouver Island nurse has been fined more than $17,000 after an investigation found she crossed professional boundaries in a "very unusual" and financially abusive relationship with an elderly couple. 

Laurie Tinkham persuaded the seniors to pay for her dental work, new glasses and medication valued at $1,600 a month, on top of a monthly stipend, according to a disciplinary notice by the College of Registered Nurses of B.C. (CRNBC).

In 2013, the college launched an investigation into Tinkham's relationship with the couple, who have since died.

Tinkham bought a mobile home with the couple — named in documents as Mr. and Mrs. W. The couple left that home to Tinkham upon their deaths. 

The former nurse also assumed power of attorney for Mr. W in 2012, giving her the right to make financial and legal decisions on his behalf. 

In a decision released last spring, the college said Tinkham violated professional standards, ruling the nurse exploited her relationship with an elderly and infirm couple. The financial penalty was announced earlier this month.

Nurse Next Door

The college said Tinkham met the seniors more than seven years ago while she was working for Nurse Next Door, which provides care to seniors in their homes.

Tinkham later cut ties with that organization but continued to work exclusively with the couple, listing her work address as their home address when she applied to have her provincial nursing license renewed in 2012.

In January 2013, a staffer with the Vancouver Island Health Authority — who'd been treating Mr. W — filed a complaint with the college after hearing Tinkham had power of attorney over the couple's finances and that one of the seniors was paying Tinkham's bills.

Tinkham responded to that complaint, admitting that the allegations were true. The college launched an investigation after that.

The probe found that Tinkham had written and cashed around $11,000 in cheques from Mr. W's account from October to December 2012, according to the decision notice.

The former nurse claimed she spent that money on Mr. W, but admitted she'd kept some cash for herself because she was "always a couple of hundred dollars short at the end of the month."

In an interview for the investigation, Mr. W said he had agreed to give her some money "to help her out" but that it was only about $4,000.

Mr. and Mrs. W died several months apart in 2013.

Penalty 'should send a strong message'

College guidelines for nurse-patient relationships state nurses aren't permitted to have personal friendships with clients. Financial abuse is also not tolerated, nor is accepting power of attorney from a client.

In an interview for the college probe, Tinkham admitted she "had clearly" crossed a line in developing "a close, personal friendship" with Mr. W. She also stated Mr. W may have developed romantic feelings for her.

Tinkham was fined $17,500 for misconduct and ordered to pay the college's legal fees of $16,535 last fall. She was also handed an official reprimand and can't apply to have her licence reinstated for at least five years.

The college said Tinkham's licence would've been cancelled had it not lapsed during the investigation in March 2013.

In its decision, the college said the penalty against Tinkham is meant to send a message to nurses across the province.

"The public trusts [nurses] to care for vulnerable clients," it said. "[The penalty] should send a strong message to the profession that nurses must maintain appropriate boundaries at all times."

Tinkham did not respond to CBC's request for an interview. Nurse Next Door said it could not comment on individual former employees due to confidentiality and privacy concerns.