Drug-tracking a problem at home where killer nurse worked, inquiry hears

By Jonathan Sher, The London Free Press

Brenda Van Quaethem

Brenda Van Quaethem

ST. THOMAS — The Woodstock nursing home where Elizabeth Wettlaufer injected seven residents with deadly doses of insulin had a systemic problem keeping track of narcotics, the home's former administrator told a public inquiry Thursday.

"I did not believe it was just (Wettlaufer)," Brenda Van Quaethem, the former administrator of Caressant Care, testified in the third day of a public inquiry meant to uncover how the former nurse was able to embark on a killing spree from 2007 to 2014 that left eight dead at two Southwestern Ontario longterm care homes and six injured.

The systemic challenges with tracking narcotics are one reason Caressant Care in Woodstock didn't discipline Wettlaufer after a personal support worker there wrote to management that Wettlaufer wasn't counting medications properly, Van Quaethem said. 

The former administrator admitted she first became concerned that patient safety might have been compromised by Wettlaufer in August, 2012, when the home wrote on a disciplinary form that continued errors by the nurse could lead to a referral to the College of Nurses of Ontario, the profession's regulatory body, to consider her fitness to work.

Under questioning by a lawyer representing some of the families and friends of Wettlaufer's victims, Van Quaethem retracted a statement she made earlier this week— that Wettlaufer had the ability to become a good nurse.

"Given what you wrote on this disciplinary note, do you still believe it?" lawyer Alex Van Kralingen asked.

"No," Van Quaethem replied.

The former administrator admitted she played no role in the writing of a letter of recommendation for Wettlaufer after the latter was fired in 2014 — the letter was written by the home's corporate headquarters to resolve a grievance filed by the Ontario Nurses Association.

Asked if she agreed with the laudatory letter for a nurse who had placed patients at risk, Van Quaethem said, "I can't answer that."

Earlier, she told another lawyer representing families of victims that had it not been for the nurses' union, Wettlaufer may have been fired sooner.

The former administrator later broke down in tears under the questioning of a lawyer representing the Ontario Nurses Association, saying she was struggling to recall details under the emotional stress of the inquiry.

The former administrator will be followed to the stand at a courthouse in St. Thomas by Helen Crombez, a former nursing director who worked at the Woodstock home for more than 30 years and who later told police that while some people who died under Wettlaufer's care showed symptoms of insulin overdose, the home did not track, secure or consider insulin as a cause of death. Wettlaufer later confessed to police she injected massive doses of insulin to kill patients.

The third witness will be a nurse at Caressant Care who was the union rep for the Ontario Nurses Association, Karen Routledge. She attended disciplinary meetings at the home for Wettlaufer, Hewitt told the inquiry.

Wettlaufer was sentenced to life in prison after confessing to killing eight residents of nursing homes in Woodstock and London and trying to kill six more, including one in her home.