Fin­gers point in blame game

Union, care home firm lawyers cross swords at killer nurse in­quiry


ST. THOMAS — A pub­lic in­quiry into how El­iz­a­beth Wet­t­laufer got away for seven years with a mur­der and crime spree in­volv­ing 14 pa­tients de­volved Tues­day into a blame game be­tween a nurses’ union and the com­pany that runs a Wood­stock nurs­ing home where the nurse in­flicted most of her car­nage.

Lawyers for the On­tario Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion and Ca­res­sant Care Nurs­ing and Re­tire­ment Homes Ltd. clashed of­ten af­ter each tried to so­licit answers from He­len Crombez, the for­mer nurs­ing di­rec­tor at the Wood­stock home, that would damn the other.

Re­spond­ing to ear­lier tes­ti­mony from Crombez, who said union griev­ances made it dif­fi­cult to dis­ci­pline nurses, the lawyer for the nurses union, Kate Hughes, pointed out that though Wet­t­laufer was coun­selled or dis­ci­plined dozens of times, the union filed only three griev­ances.

But the most direct clash came af­ter the lawyer for Ca­res­sant Care, David Golden, asked Crombez if the nurses’ union dis­closed what it knew about Wet­t­laufer’s trou­bled work his­tory. She was fired in 1995 from her first job as a nurse af­ter she stole, used and over­dosed on drugs taken from a north­ern On­tario hos­pi­tal while she was work­ing.

The union filed a griev­ance that led the hos­pi­tal to change what it had called a ter­mi­na­tion to a res­ig­na­tion, he said.

The union knew of Wet­t­laufer’s fir­ing, sub­stance abuse and claim that she was suf­fer­ing from mental ill­ness that led a reg­u­la­tory col­lege to tem­po­rar­ily de­clare her un­fit to prac­tise, but did the union ever share its knowl­edge with Ca­res­sant Care, Golden asked Crombez.

“(The On­tario Nurses As­so­ci­a­tion) had all the de­tails,” Golden said.

“Did the union ever say we have ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion?”

Be­fore Crombez could re­spond, Hughes ob­jected to the ques­tion, but was over­ruled by in­quiry head, Jus­tice Eileen Gillese.

“It ap­pears (from the sub­mit­ted ev­i­dence) that ONA was well aware,” Gillese said.

The union lawyer al­ready had ques­tioned Crombez over what her man­age­ment team shared with the union, so Hughes had no ba­sis for ob­ject­ing that the home’s lawyer was en­gag­ing in a sim­i­lar pur­suit, Gillese said.

Given that lee­way, Golden asked, “Over the seven-year pe­riod (that Wet­t­laufer worked at Ca­res­sant Care), did ONA ever tell of prior mental health is­sues?”

“No,” Crombez said.

Later, Hughes ques­tioned why the home’s lawyer got to ques­tion Crombez af­ter the union had its turn, ask­ing the in­quiry to al­low the union to ques­tion her and other wit­nesses a sec­ond time.

Gillese re­jected the re­quest, not­ing it would be con­trary to nor­mal rules for pub­lic in­quiries.

Af­ter Crombez finished her tes­ti­mony, nurse Karen Rout­ledge told the in­quiry no nurses at the Wood­stock home wanted to serve as union rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

“I in­her­ited it by de­fault,” said Rout­ledge, who took on that role from 2009-11.

Rout­ledge said she com­plained to man­age­ment about the work habits of Wet­t­laufer, who seemed more fo­cused on be­ing chummy than su­per­vis­ing staff and com­plet­ing her re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Though Wet­t­laufer made fre­quent er­rors, she al­ways seemed gen­uinely re­morse­ful and car­ing, her for­mer col­league said.

“She fooled me,” said Rout­ledge, who sometimes ac­com­pa­nied Wet­t­laufer to dis­ci­pline meet­ings with man­agers.

“There was no in­di­ca­tion she wasn’t be­ing gen­uine.”

It seemed nei­ther union nor com­pany higher-ups did the leg­work to flag and cor­rect the pat­tern of mis­takes and lack of work.

“It should have gone higher up, ei­ther on the (union) lad­der or the cor­po­rate lad­der,” Rout­ledge said.

Nine weeks of tes­ti­mony are ex­pected to be done in Septem­ber, with a re­port due next year.


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