Less than two weeks after former nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years for the murders of eight seniors in her care, the leader of the Ontario New Democrats is calling on the Wynne government to launch a full inquiry into the state of senior and long-term care in the province.
Andrea Horwath held a roundtable in Woodstock on Wednesday with residents, care workers, and relatives of Wettlaufer’s victims as part of a larger tour across the province discussing seniors care with families and front-line workers.
Wednesday afternoon, Horwath was joined by local MPPs Teresa Armstrong and Peggy Sattler at the home of the Saxby family in London, and later held another large roundtable with families to hear their experiences with long-term care in Ontario.
“We’ve been listening to residents, family members, particularly of residents in long-term care, because we know that the core of the Wettlaufer murders have hit southwestern Ontario particularly hard, but we also know that long-term care, as a whole, is a system in crisis,” Horwath said.
Wettlaufer used insulin trying, and in most cases succeeding, to kill vulnerable victims in her care at three Ontario long-term care facilities and a private home. Her crimes began in 2007 and didn’t stop until she confessed to the killings at a psychiatric hospital in Toronto last fall.
The same day Wettlaufer was sentenced, the province announced it would move to appoint a commissioner to lead a public inquiry into the murders. The government will make details of the inquiry public once they have been approved by cabinet.
Horwath said that while she is glad the Wettlaufer inquiry has been called, she argues a larger and broader inquiry into Ontario’s senior and long-term care system is needed.
“There are many, many problems in long-term care, and it needs to be addressed,” Horwath said.
“Let’s shine a bigger spotlight on our entire long-term care system, because it’s imploding before our eyes, and people are not getting the quality care they deserve.”
Horwath proposed a two-phase inquiry that would look at the circumstances surrounding the Wettlaufer case, and also probe staffing levels, funding, and safety conditions at Ontario long-term care homes. Horwath said an NDP government would expand the inquiry after the upcoming provincial election if the Wynne Liberals failed to act.
“As I’ve been hearing from residents, particularly family members, the horror stories continue,” Horwath said. “I know even here in London, the local media has done a good job of raising the red flag that various incidents have occurred when it comes to the quality of care that people are receiving, the safety of residents, the violence that some folks experience.”
Horwath said cuts to health care and front-line care staff by the previous Conservative government and the current Liberal government have caused significant damage to the province’s long-term care system.
“Together, they’ve swept problems under the rug and refused to talk about it,” she said.
In a statement, London West MPP Peggy Sattler charged that care home workers have been asked to do more with less, putting residents at risk.
“If Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals won’t take action to fix this crisis now, an NDP government will launch an inquiry within 100 days of taking office,” Sattler said.
— With files from Matthew Trevithick of AM980 and Liam Casey of The Canadian Press