Elizabeth Wettlaufer, the ex-nurse who murdered eight of her elderly patients at two Ontario nursing homes, will not testify at public hearings that begin on Tuesday, despite a formal request from some of the victims’ families that she appear in person to explain how she got away with her crimes.
The commissioner overseeing the Long-Term Care Homes Public Inquiry rejected a motion asking the killer to testify, writing in a ruling last week that there was little new to be learned from a woman who had already confessed in detail and whose testimony could be disruptive and expensive./
But the friends and relatives of some of the nursing-home residents Ms. Wettlaufer injected with lethal doses of insulin say her testimony could have shed more light on how the health-care system failed to stop her – the question at the centre of the public inquiry.
“I just think she has a lot more answers and a lot more insight into this,” said Arpad Horvath Jr., whose father, Arpad Horvath, Sr., 75, was the last patient to be killed by Ms. Wettlaufer. “She should be there. I think she should witness what she caused.”
Even without testimony from Ms. Wettlaufer, the public hearings that begin in a St. Thomas, Ont., courtroom on Tuesday have been highly anticipated since the inquiry was announced last summer.
The hearings start just two days before a provincial election in which all three major political parties have promised to open thousands of new long-term care beds, and two of the three have campaigned on beefing up staffing in nursing homes.
The Ontario NDP has also promised, if elected, to expand the inquiry’s mandate to look at the long-term care sector as a whole, a call the Liberal government rejected.
Instead, Commissioner Eileen Gillese, a justice on the Ontario Court of Appeal, has been asked to probe how systemic failures allowed Ms. Wettlaufer to murder eight, attempt to murder four and assault two others over nine years under four different employers, including a home-care agency.
Justice Gillese is expected to submit a final report with recommendations on July 31, 2019.
“[The inquiry] is very important to me,” said Laura Jackson, a close friend of murder victim Maurice [Moe] Granat and a member of one of the 17 groups formally participating in the inquiry. “There are people that need to be held responsible for the conditions that allowed [Ms. Wettlaufer] to have access to that medication and access to the patients themselves.”
Four areas of the health-care system are expected to be put under the microscope over 10 weeks of testimony.
First up will be a look at the facilities that employed Ms. Wettlaufer, including Caressant Care, the Woodstock nursing home where seven of the eight victims died, and Meadow Park, the London long-term care home where Ms. Wettlaufer killed her final victim, Mr. Horvath, in 2014.
Ms. Wettlaufer also attempted to murder two others at Caressant Care, one resident at the Telfer Place retirement home in Paris, Ont., and tried to kill another who she was treating at home while employed by Saint Elizabeth, a home-care agency.
The first three witnesses expected to testify this week are Caressant Care’s administrator, director of nursing and a registered nurse from the home.
Future weeks of the hearings will focus on the College of Nurses of Ontario, the regulatory body that oversees the profession; the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario and the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service; and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the government department that funds and regulates Ontario’s 628 nursing homes.
Lisa Levin, the chief executive officer of AdvantAge Ontario, an organization that represents non-profit long-term care homes and seniors’ services, said she hopes the inquiry will examine how the system has responded to major changes in the patient population over the last decade.
“Today people are pulling up in ambulances as crisis placements. They’re much sicker than before. But the staffing levels and the funding from government hasn’t increased with it,” said Ms. Levin, whose organization is another of the groups with formal standing at the inquiry.
When Ms. Wettlaufer committed her crimes, Ontario only required that one registered nurse be on site at a long-term care home, no matter the home’s size. Ms. Wettlaufer killed several of her patients during the night shift, while she was the lone nurse on duty.
In their pre-election budget, the Liberals promised to invest $300-million over three years to hire an additional registered nurse for every home and provide an average of four hours of hands-on care every day to people living in long-term care.
The NDP has also promised to set standards that would offer a minimum of four hours of care per day, while the Progressive Conservative plan is silent on long-term care, except for a promise to build 30,000 new beds over 10 years.
Even though Ms. Wettlaufer won’t testify at the inquiry, the public will still hear from the killer.
Lawyers for the inquiry interviewed Ms. Wettlaufer in prison, where she is serving a life sentence, on Feb. 14 of this year. A transcript of that interview is expected to be released as early as Tuesday.