Elizabeth Wettlaufer, former registered nurse, is back in the news again this week with the opening of the Long-Term Care Homes Public Inquiry. Ms. Wettlaufer – in case you have forgotten – pled guilty to eight counts of 1st degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault back in June 2017. What makes her actions particularly heinous is that she caused this grievous harm to human life while providing healthcare services to vulnerable, elderly patients. When Wettlaufer was a practicing RN, she not only failed to provide optimal patient care – she intentionally injected her patients with enough insulin to end their lives. And, for the most part, she did this while working surrounded by other nurses, other healthcare providers and administrators.
The goal of the Long-Term Care Homes Public Inquiry is to determine how our current healthcare system allowed something like this to happen, as well as how we can prevent anything like that from occurring again. There are many parties to this investigation including the various long-term care facilities where Wettlaufer worked, regulatory bodies, professional associations, unions and government. Undoubtedly, all these various organizations will be asked in the coming weeks to account for the roles they played – or failed to play – in this latest healthcare catastrophe.
This inquiry comes at a time when we are already experiencing an erosion of public trust in the entire healthcare system – not just long-term care. Almost half of Canadians do not believe they are receiving quality health care (i). Part of this erosion in public trust comes from the perception that the healthcare system is not transparent about its flaws, and that when a problem is identified, the system is slow to take any corrective action. The Wettlaufer case is undeniably a tragedy, but it has been referred to as merely “the tip of the iceberg”(ii) .
So the question becomes, what can we as RTs do about it? The CRTO routinely receives questions from RTs regarding what to do about faults they see within their own healthcare organizations, and our advice is almost always – “raise your voices”. If you have a concern about a regulated healthcare professional’s practice, tell your supervisor/manager AND contact the individual’s regulatory body. Just because you reach out to a health professional’s College, doesn’t mean you are committed to reporting the individual. The staff at a regulatory body can talk you through the process and help guide you to the most appropriate action. And if you have concerns that certain organizational processes are putting patients at risk, report this immediately to as many departments as required – and as often as required – to ensure your message is heard.
We all have a role to play in earning back the public’s trust, and we all have a responsibility to speak up.
(i)McGill University. (2016). The Health Care in Canada Survey. Retrieved from https://www.mcgill.ca/hcic-sssc/files/hcic-sssc/hcic_2016_results_01-trends.pdf
(ii)Dubinski, K. (2017, June 26). Province calls public inquiry into long-term care homes. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/public-inquiry-ontario-long-term-care-homes-wettlaufer-1.4178185