Commissioner hears requests for standing in long-term care home public inquiry in St. Thomas

Liny Lamberink/980 CFPL

For Barbara Timmerman, getting standing at hearings for the province’s public inquiry into long-term care homes isn’t about placing blame.

The London supply teacher navigated Ontario’s health-care system with her elderly father — a journey that came to an end in August, following a “life-ending injury,” just days after he moved into a long-term care home.

Because of that journey — and the peace she’s made with it — Timmerman feels she has valuable insight on improvements that can be made in the long-term care sector. It’s why she stood before Commissioner Eileen Gillese in a St. Thomas courtroom Tuesday afternoon and asked to participate in the inquiry’s public hearings.

READ MORE: Troubling long-term care home stories shared at public inquiry’s community meeting in London

“We did receive kindness and caring from many people,” Timmerman explained. “But there were a number of times when there wasn’t an understanding of the complexity of [my father’s] particular disease.”
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Timmerman attributes her knowledge of her father’s vascular dementia to two organizations she wants every long-term care worker to get training from: The Alzheimer Society of Canada and Behavioural Supports Ontario.

That kind of training in the future may help prevent mistakes, injuries, and even fatalities.

READ MORE: Long-term care home inquiry set to hear concerns in London

“‘It’s probably just the dementia,'” Timmerman remembers being told when she and her brother brought their father to the emergency room one day. It was after weeks of probing, asking the family doctor for testing, and consulting anyone who might have advice, that a trip to the same hospital showed their father had bladder retention and a resulting bladder infection.

“It had sparked intense delirium,” she said. “We were now three to four weeks behind the eight ball, and he became very ill and had to be in hospital for eight weeks.”

Despite all this, Timmerman is adamant that she doesn’t want to blame anyone for wrong-doing.

“I’m a compassionate person, I know that all humans make mistakes and we all desire mercy,” she explained.

“I’m pleading, passionately pleading with everyone in the health-care field, and care of the elderly in this province and patients in the hopsital as well that we listen. That we listen to each other. It was a two-sided coin. Mercy when we make mistakes, but we need to listen and act when we’re informed that there may be a serious problem brewing.”

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READ MORE: Elizabeth Wettlaufer pleads guilty to all charges in killing of 8 seniors

Alongside a need for greater accountability and greater training, Timmerman also wants to see greater value and respect given to family members and caregivers who often have intimate knowledge of a resident or patient. That knowledge is how she and her brother knew something more was wrong with their father before he was diagnosed with bladder problems.

“I have felt that it was my responsibility to try to somehow be a part of making good out of some of the sorrow that people like Elizabeth Wettlaufer’s victims’ families and those that were harmed by her [feel].”

Relatives of Wettlaufer’s victims, along with other advocacy and health-care groups, are among four dozen applicants seeking to take part in the public inquiry Tuesday and Wednesday.

If granted standing by Commissioner Eileen Gillese, they’ll have the right to call and question witnesses during public hearings slated to begin in the Elgin County Courthouse in St. Thomas next June.

The inquiry was launched in August after Wettlaufer pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault.