Wettlaufer was called 'angel of death' by colleague, public inquiry hears

Elizabeth Wettlaufer was referred to as an "angel of death' while she worked at a Woodstock, Ont., nursing home, a former colleague tells a public inquiry.

Former union rep Karen Routledge testifies about missed opportunities to stop nurse killing patients

Elizabeth Wettlaufer pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder for killing nursing home patients. Police now believe she committed additional attacks. (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)

Elizabeth Wettlaufer was referred to as an "angel of death' while she worked at a Woodstock, Ont., nursing home, a former colleague told a public inquiry on Wednesday. 

"Bethe would spend a lot of time with palliative patients, and someone overheard her telling a patient, 'It's OK to die,'" nurse Karen Routledge said. 

"I didn't think that was an appropriate thing to be telling a patient. It's not a nurse's place." 

Counselling patients on death should be left to families, not nurses, she testified. 

Although Routledge said she never called Wettlaufer an "angel of death," she knew of another nurse or personal support worker at the Caressant Care nursing home doing so.

A lawyer representing several of the families of Wettlaufer's victims, Alex Van Kranlingen, said the morbid moniker is just another sign that red flags were missed over the years at the Caressant Care nursing home. 

"I think what is happening here is that we are starting to add up all the pieces. Any individual piece alone may not trigger anything but, certainly, the accumulation of them would have shown that there is a large problem at this home," he said. 

There was no immediate indication from Routledge's testimony that anyone knew Wettlaufer was poisoning people.

Wettlaufer killed seven people while working at Caressant Care for seven years. Her crimes went undetected.

Routledge is a registered nurse who worked with Wettlaufer and acted as her union representative during frequent meetings about Wettlaufer's absenteeism, tardiness, treatment of staff and patients, and medication errors. 

There wasn't much to stop nurses from tampering with insulin doses at the Caressant Care home in Woodstock, Routledge told the public inquiry Tuesday. 

"At Caressant Care, there was no double-check on insulin," said Routledge. "Physically, geographically, there was one nurse on second floor for 32 residents, you didn't have that availability of another registered staff."

The insulin was kept inside locked medication rooms, but nurses like Wettlaufer had full access. There was no system of oversight to make sure nurses gave the right dose to patients. 

Routledge will continue her testimony at the public inquiry today.

Coroner didn't investigate deaths

Routledge also testified Tuesday that the coroner didn't do an autopsy on one of Wettlaufer's victims, Maureen Pickering, 79, even though her symptoms were sudden. 

The coroner was told but didn't seem concerned, so the death was not listed as "sudden or unexpected." 

The Long-Term Care Homes Public Inquiry, established on Aug. 1, 2017, after Wettlaufer was sentenced to eight concurrent life terms, is headed by Justice Eileen Gillese. It began hearings in St. Thomas on June 5 into how Wettlaufer's crimes went undetected for so long. 

Wettlaufer's killing spree began in 2007 and continued until 2016, when she finally confessed to a psychiatrist and a social worker. Until then, her employers, police and Ontario's licensing body for nurses had no idea eight patients had been murdered and six more poisoned — all with injections of massive doses of insulin.

Colleagues to testify

Wettlaufer confessed her killing spree to a social worker and psychiatrist and was charged. She pleaded guilty in court to the murders and attempted murders and was sentenced June 26, 2017, to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

The inquiry will hear from another colleague of Wettlaufer's and from the president of a home-care company where Wettlaufer worked after leaving Caressant Care. 

There are 17 groups or organizations with standing at the inquiry, including the profession's union, the Ontario Nurses Association, and the College of Nurses of Ontario, the profession's regulatory body.