Inquiry into long term-care must be more broad: Horwath

Horwath discussed long term-care in Sarnia on Thursday, August 3

Lynne Withers (left) talks to Andrea Horwath (right) about her experience as a nurse practitioner working in long term-care. (Travis Poland/Lambton Shield)

Andrea Horwath is calling on the Ontario government to do more in its public inquiry into problems at Ontario’s long term-care homes.

“When you look at what they’ve done, they’ve really scoped it to things that are specific to the Wettlaufer murders,” Horwath said about the inquiry. “It’s also an opportune time to acknowledge that we have serious problems in our long term-care system and this inquiry can help us determine exactly what’s going on there and find out what we can do to fix it.”

The Ontario NDP leader made the comments after meeting in Sarnia with Lynne Withers, a nurse practitioner working long term-care.

Horwarth said the government’s inquiry is too limited in its scope and must touch on other issues.

“We want to make sure that its depth is appropriate,” she said.

“This inquiry is a missed opportunity. The Liberals have missed an opportunity to do the right thing.”

The inquiry is the result of the case of Elizabeth Wettlaufer– a former registered nurse in Ontario long term-care homes– who pleaded guilty in early June to eight counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder, and two counts of aggravated assault.

Wettlaufer’s crimes occurred over a decade in three Ontario long term-care homes and one private care home. In every case, Wettlaufer intentionally overdosed patients with insulin. She is now serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

The judge who oversaw the criminal case said there is a chance Wettlaufer may never have been caught if she hadn’t confessed to the killings while at a Toronto psychiatric hospital last September.

On Tuesday, August 1, Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General asked an experienced appeal court judge, the Honourable Justice Eileen Gillese, “to inquire into the circumstances and systemic issues which may have contributed to the assault and death of residents who were under the care of Elizabeth Wettlaufer.”

The inquiry gives Gillese and her team the power to review the accountability measures in place to ensure they meet the objectives of the Long Term Care Homes Act, and provide recommendations to improve the safety and well-being of residents. It will have a broader scope than the police investigation or prosecution, according to an Attorney General news release.

“It will not only look at what occurred, but also look for any underlying issues that need to be addressed and make recommendations to ensure that the objectives of the Long Term Care Homes Act are met,” reads the release.

Gillese must file her report to the Attorney General by July 31, 2019– a timeline that Horwath said is disappointing.

“That crisis can’t remained unchecked for another two years,” she said.

Reviewing and broadening the inquiry is a possibility if the NDP forms a government after the next election, Horwath said.

“We’ll have a hard look at whether we think the inquiry is actually meeting the broader intentions that we want to see, and if it’s not– which is what we suspect at this point– we will absolutely broaden that inquiry,” she said.

Horwath said she would like to see a two-phase inquiry, one that looks into the specifics of the Wettlaufer case and then a second phase looking at systemic problems in Ontario long term-care.

“Although they use some of that language in the press release…when you look at the mandate, it’s all tied to the Wettlaufer situation and it’s not clear there’s a commitment to that broader mandate,” Horwath said.

After her Sarnia visit, Horwath went south to Wallaceburg to discuss funding for the Sydenham campus of the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance.with representatives from Save Our Sydenham and the Ontario Health Coalition.

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