Woodstock nurse charged with murder of 8 elderly patients renews focus on violence against seniors
Elizabeth Tracey Mae Wettlaufer, a registered nurse in Woodstock, allegedly killed eight nursing home residents, in a case that shocked southwestern Ontario and renewed attention on the issue of violence against seniors.
The deaths spanned between August 2007 and August 2014, police said during a news conference Tuesday morning in Woodstock.
Police would not say how they died, except that seven were administered a fatal dose of a drug. The age of the victims ranged from 75 to 96.
“We’re confident at this time that all of the victims have been identified and families have been notified,” Woodstock police Chief William Renton said.
Laura Tamblyn-Watts, senior fellow at the Canadian Centre for Elder Law, said she was horrified to hear about the charges.
“We certainly have challenges in the long-term care system but this is a unique experience,” said Laura Tamblyn-Watts.
“This is a horrifying experience but it is not reflective of long-term care facilities in Ontario.”
Tamblyn-Watts said violence against seniors isn’t widely studied and there is little research on abuse against Canadian seniors in long-term care homes.
“Abuse and neglect in long-term care has not recently been measured,” she said. “Folks in long term care are quite frail and very vulnerable often with some sort of cognitive impairment. We don’t have a full understanding of the range of abuse and neglect.”
The General Social Survey on Victimization from 2004 found four to five percent of seniors report experiencing some form of abuse over the age of 65.
“It is a challenge to estimate the prevalence and incidence of elder abuse in Canada,” according to the Canadian Nurses Association. “This is due to many factors such as under-reporting, confusion about what constitutes elder abuse, and a general lack of awareness, among other factors.”
WATCH: Police say registered nurse administered a drug to kill eight elderly people at Ontario nursing homes
The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) said the murders highlight the ongoing societal issue of abuse of elderly citizens across the country.
“CARP reminds everyone that these crimes are no less odious nor less tragic than any other violent death of any other citizen in our society,” said Wade Poziomka, CARP Policy Director and General Counsel, in a statement. “The age of the victims and their medical condition should play no part in how our justice system pursues those who violate the laws of our land and cause harm to another.”
WATCH: Eight victims, suspect identified as part of multi-jurisdictional death investigation at Ontario nursing homes
Susan Horvath’s father Arpad was a resident at Meadow Park long-term care centre in London, Ont., and was 75 when he died in August 2014.
She told Global News’ affiliate radio station AM980 in London she suspected he was being abused.
“I’d seen my dad and the condition he was in and he had a lot of fear — he had a lot of fear — and just things about him and everything I noticed on his body and stuff, I just had a feeling,” Horvath said.
“And then when he passed on – and how he passed on – that’s when I knew this is not right.”
The grim police investigation reverberated through Queen’s Park Tuesday as the premier and local MPPs reacted to the death, with NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong calling for more provincial oversight.
“We need to understand how these things can happen in an Ontario long-term care facility without the ministry even noticing,” Theresa told reporters. “Your families are suffering. The loved ones of the victims are suffering and I can’t imagine the emotional distress they are experiencing because of what happened.”
“This government has been neglectful on many things in Ontario and this one is inexcusable that they are neglectful and unwilling to pay attention. That this went undetected is really deplorable.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne said it was “extremely distressing” and Health Minister Eric Hoskins asked for patience as police and officials conduct their investigation.
“We’re asking for patience and understanding at this extremely difficult moment in time, particularly given the families involved and the communities involved,” Hoskins said during Question Period.
Tamblyn-Watts said there is a lot more that can be done around investigating deaths of seniors at nursing homes.
“There is a lot scope for a better set of procedures around reviewing elder death in long-term care facilities,” she said, like standard forensic review teams that are already used to review the deaths of children.
The names of the victims, ages, and the dates of their deaths are as follows:
- James Silcox, 84, Caressant Care – Woodstock, August 17, 2007
- Maurice Granat, 84, Caressant Care – Woodstock, December 23, 2007
- Gladys Millard 87, Caressant Care – Woodstock, October 14, 2011
- Helen Matheson, 95, Caressant Care – Woodstock, October 27, 2011
- Mary Zurawinski, 96, Caressant Care – Woodstock, November 7, 2011
- Helen Young,90, Caressant Care – Woodstock, July 14, 2013
- Maureen Pickering,79, Caressant Care – Woodstock, March 28, 2014
- Arpad Horvath, 75, Meadow Park – London, August 31, 2014
*With files from Global News
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.