Tearful boss apologizes at inquiry for nurse who killed in nursing homes
‘It was devastating,’ says director of nursing about news of murdered patients
The woman who hired a nurse who killed seven patients in a Woodstock., Ont , care home tearfully apologized on Friday at a public inquiry in St. Thomas, Ont.
Helen Crombez, the Caressant Care home's former director of nursing, said she knew Elizabeth Wettlaufer made frequent medication and nursing errors, but had no idea she was deliberately injecting patients with insulin to kill them.
"It was devastating," Crombez said of her own reaction to hearing the news that Wettlaufer had confessed to killing patients at her home and another in London, Ont.
"It was the most terrible thing that could have happened to anyone who works in long-term care, who loves her residents, who always wanted the best care possible," she said.
Crombez was the second witness to testify at the public inquiry into long-term care in Ontario.
The inquiry was established after Wettlaufer was sentenced to eight concurrent life terms for killing eight people, and is headed by Justice Eileen Gillese. It's set to hear from 17 parties over nine weeks.
Crombez said the news of the killings affected her as well as the staff and residents of the nursing home.
"It changed my life. I haven't been the same since. I'm so sorry that it happened. I can just imagine what the families went through."
During her 30-year career at the Caressant Care home, her goal was to offer residents comfort and peaceful, natural deaths as their lives came to a close, she said.
"To know that Beth committed these crimes, it's just awful," she said.
Her tearful apology also brought Justice Gillese to tears. Gillese thanked Crombez for her candor.
Opioids stolen from home
Earlier in the day, the inquiry heard that police officers in Woodstock were asked to canvass drug dealers in that city in April 2013 to find out if someone was stealing opioids from the Caressant Care nursing home and selling them on the street.
It appeared a box for discarded narcotics had been tampered with and a gap created so someone could slide a hand or tongs in to retrieve the drugs, Crombez, told the inquiry.
There were no cameras in medication rooms where insulin and narcotics were stored in the home.
But the home was given permission by its head office to install a hidden camera to catch the thief in the act.
"There was never a camera installed but we kind of talked like there was, so it would possibly hinder someone from taking more medication," Crombez said. "I would say things like 'candid camera, you never know.'"
Crombez also went over an incident in March 24, 2008, in which Wettlaufer didn't give a patient his insulin.
Crombez cried, saying that in retrospect, Wettlaufer was likely withholding insulin from some patients so she could use it on others to kill or harm them.
Less than a year later, that patient, Wayne Hedges, 57, was one of the people Wettlaufer tried to kill between September and December 2008. She pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of Hedges.
Performance deemed 'competent'
In her first job performance review at Caressant Care, in June 2007, Wettlaufer was given marks of "competent" or "commendable." Crombez rated her medication administration skills as needing improvement.
Crombez said there were two medication rooms in the 163-bed facility, and a variety of people had keys to them.
One had a small window in the door and the other didn't.
Wettlaufer injected her patients with insulin to kill them. She also had drug problems herself, and in a previous job, she was found almost passed out while on shift after overdosing on a narcotic.