The Current

Long-term care homes need better inspections, says seniors' advocate

Eight elderly victims allegedly murdered by a nurse in a long-term care home have triggered concerns far beyond the communities involved. How could these deaths go undetected for years? The Current looks into the oversights in nursing homes.
Police have charged a nurse, Elizabeth Tracey Mae Wettlaufer of Woodstock, Ont., with murder, alleging she killed eight nursing home residents by administering a drug. (Citynews Toronto/Canadian Press)

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On Oct. 25, registered nurse, Elizabeth Tracey Mae Wettlaufer, was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder. All victims were seniors, at nursing homes in London and Woodstock, Ont., where Wettlaufer had worked.

"In my job I've never seen this in 20 years where you had a nurse who has been accused of multiple murders in a long-term care home," Jane Meadus tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Meadus is a staff lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly and says "staff on resident issues causing death in long-term care" is very uncommon.
James Silcox, 84, was allegedly killed at the Caressant Care Nursing and Retirement home in Woodstock, Ont., Aug. 17, 2007. (Simon Dingley/CBC News)

From 2013 to 2016, there were full residential quality inspections, says Meadus, but now those inspections are less intrusive.

"I think that we need maybe a system where there's more checking," says Meadus who says police are suggesting a drug was involved in the case. 

"It is not uncommon to see medication, just general medication errors in long-term care. Partially because of the timing, you know people are run ragged," Meadus tells Tremonti.

"But I think because there's not enough checks and balances on that system, when something goes wrong they're not always reported, even though it should be."

Donalda Osmond expresses shock after learning her friend Helen Matheson was killed 0:23

Dr. Samir Sinha, the provincial lead for Ontario's Seniors Strategy tells Tremonti that in fact there are a number of safeguards implemented to protect the elderly.

"Actually the long-term care systems in general across the country are some of the most heavily-regulated and we have systems in place," says Sinha,

He stresses that critical incidents have to be reported.

"We have obligations to our patients but also to each other so that if we think that someone is not working you know to the highest standards... there are procedures and policies in place."

While autopsies are unusual for deaths in long-term care according to Meadus, she will be requesting the coroner to have an inquest into the deaths "because it's a good way to look at the whole system."

"The criminal charges are going to be very focused on a criminal system whereas I think this is a broader 

"How did she get there? How was she able to do this? Those could be answered much better in a coroner's inquest."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Pacinthe Mattar, Sujata Berry and Willow Smith.

The Current did request an interview with Eric Hoskins, Ontario's minister of health and long term care. We did not hear back from his office. We also requested interviews with the Caressant Care home in Woodstock and the Meadow Park home in London. Both companies declined interviews and provided the following statement:

"We are determined to avoid compromising the police investigation in any way and are therefore unable to provide any additional comment at this time."