Metro Morning

How suspicious deaths at seniors homes can go unnoticed

After former Ontario nurse Elizabeth Tracy Mae Wettlaufer was charged with first-degree murder in connection with deaths that occurred at long-term care homes for seniors, Metro Morning looked into the checks and balances at these facilities and how they handle resident deaths.

Only some deaths at long-term care homes investigated by coroner, seniors advocate says

Jane Meadus says she'd like to see a coroner's inquest into the eight deaths that Wettflauer is charged with. (CBC)

Former Ontario nurse Elizabeth Tracy Mae Wettlaufer has been charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in connection with deaths that occurred at two different long-term care homes for seniors. Metro Morning host Matt Galloway spoke with Jane Meadus, a staff lawyer and institutional advocate at the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, about the checks and balances at long-term care homes and how they handle resident deaths.  

Matt Galloway: If you assume that there's merit to these allegations, how could something like this happen for so long without someone noticing?

Jane Meadus: It's difficult to say because we don't have the facts in the case. But it appears the medication in the home was being used and that there wasn't proper medication management. The thing is, a registered nurse in a facility, they are basically in charge of things. I believe she was on nights, so she would have been the person in charge in the facility, and she would have a lot of control over medication…. She could very easily have taken medication from other people, not given it to them and given it to a resident who didn't need it.

MG: Should there not be checks and balances to ensure that if something like that were to happen that people would have a record as to where the medication was going?

JM: She would be completing the paperwork. I've heard of people who were on fentanyl and were wearing the fentanyl patches every day, but the nurse had scraped the fentanyl out of it. How would you know that? You have an incapable person who cannot tell you how much pain they're in. That's the problem: many people are incapable, and they don't know what they're getting when they receive medications.

You have to remember: people in long-term care die. One more on top of that just doesn't seem so unusual. - Jane Meadus

MG: What is the procedure when someone dies in a nursing home?

JM: The nurse would contact the doctor, who would pronounce death and they would notify the coroner. Then the normal process would start of calling the funeral home and the family. All deaths in long-term care homes are reviewed by the coroner, so they would look at the paperwork and then they decide what cases they are going to investigate. Unfortunately, they only have that paper — they are just going on whatever the home sends them. You have to remember: people in long-term care die, they are not unexpected. One more on top of that just doesn't seem so unusual.

MG: People might assume that something like this should have been caught earlier.

JM: The criminal charges have to come first, but after that, I'm hoping that a coroner might establish an inquest into these deaths, because that's where you're going to be able to look at the systemic issues, and say, 'okay, what happened with these deaths, how was she able to do it, and for how long?'

With files from Metro Morning