Reported problems with nurses on the rise since Wettlaufer, inquiry hears

The number of reports about problems with nurses has almost doubled since Elizabeth Wettlaufer's crimes came to light and an inquiry into her conduct began, the head of the province's nursing regulatory body says.

Regulatory body hikes budget as complaints almost double

The number of reports about problems with nurses has almost doubled since Elizabeth Wettlaufer's crimes came to light and an inquiry into her conduct began, the head of the Ontario's nursing regulatory body says. 

That's forced the College of Nurses of Ontario, which oversees 175,000 registered nurses and registered practical nurses, to increase its annual budget to $44 million for 2018. Its budget was $33.7 million in 2016. 

"In 2018, we're getting about 40 reports a week. It's almost doubled from 2017," said Anne Coghlan, executive director and CEO of the college. 

"I would be speculating, but our assessments have been that the increased attention that this inquiry has placed on the health-care sector has increased the number of reports we are receiving." 

Coghlan is testifying at the Elgin County courthouse in St. Thomas, Ont., at the inquiry into how Wettlaufer was able to get away with killing eight people while working in long-term care. 

Wettlaufer was a registered nurse until she confessed to her psychiatrist in 2016 that she had killed and tried to kill patients. The college revoked her certificate in 2017. 

First job, first probation

Wettlaufer first came onto the college's radar in 1995, when she was a student nurse at Geraldton Hospital, some 220 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay. She was fired after stealing opioids and overdosing while on shift. She was reported for "incapacity." 

She was placed on probation for a year and had to see a psychiatrist and an addictions specialist. 

Wettlaufer's College of Nurses record is clean until 2014, when Caressant Care long-term care in Woodstock, a small town west of Hamilton, fired her for a series of medication errors.

Caressant Care executives didn't tell the college it considered Wettlaufer as a danger to patients. 

Karen Yee, an intake co-ordinator for the college, recommended that Wettlaufer's termination be kept on file and that she be required to review some documents about her profession. 

"Ms. Yee did not recommend that a formal investigation be commenced," said Rebecca Jones, an inquiry lawyer, said. 

Yee is expected to testify at the inquiry later this week. 

Registry not comprehensive 

When she registered to become a member of the college in 1995, Wettlaufer didn't need a police record check. She checked off that she had no criminal record, no medical issues that would prevent her from practising nursing and was registered. 

The college relies on nurses to self-disclose problems such as drug addiction or alcoholism, or mental health problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression, which Wettlaufer was diagnosed with. 

Wettlaufer told her bosses at a nursing temp agency she was an alcoholic and had began drinking again. But Coghlan said the college doesn't require the agency to disclose such information. 

"We all have a duty to our community, but it's not mandatory that they report that," she testified. 

In previous testimony the college has come under fire for not revoking Wettlaufer's registration sooner and for taking a long time to perform investigations. 

It's also been criticized for not providing enough information for potential employers. 

Potential employers and the public have access to the same information on the college's website — the name of a nurse, his or her registration number, and current employment. 

There's no information about whether a nurse is the subject of a complaint or an investigation and no information about previous employers, or under what terms a nurse left his or her previous employment. 

"The expectation would be that the employer would use references," Coghlan testified. 

The inquiry into the safety and security of residents in the long-term care homes system began in June and is expected to last until September.