An administrator at the long-term care home where Elizabeth Wettlaufer committed most of her crimes says she disciplined the former nurse “many times.”
Brenda Van Quaethem, the first witness called during Wednesday’s public hearings, said the convicted killer was “very caring” and would laugh and joke with residents at the Caressant Care nursing home in Woodstock.
But documents revealed during day two of hearings for the inquiry into long-term care homes shows administration received many complaints about how Wettlaufer treated both patients and colleagues at the home. Documents also showed multiple medication errors.
In one letter to management in January 2012, a personal support worker said Wettlaufer lanced a resident’s hematoma with unsterilized scissors, let it bleed, and then didn’t get help transferring the resident from a wheelchair into bed.
A critical incident report indicates the same resident was found later, lying on the floor beside her bed, bleeding from two lacerations on her legs.
On that same shift, the personal support worker said Wettlaufer didn’t treat a resident’s injured finger – even though it’d been brought to her attention.
“I’m not sure why she did what she did,” said Van Quaethem, when asked about the incidents. “She was just so busy on that shift, she completely forgot about going back to that resident that had that finger.”
Other complaints and reports examined during the hearing indicate Wettlaufer made multiple medication errors, and would make inappropriate comments towards residents and colleagues.
It was a constant struggle to keep and recruit registered staff, Van Quaethem told lead counsel, Elizabeth Hewitt. On one occasion, she said the home didn’t have a mandatory registered nurse on site for four hours during an overnight shift.
In regards to handling complaints and errors about an employee’s work, Van Quaethem said Caressant Care adhered to a “progressive discipline” approach: staff would get counselling for their first mistake, followed by a verbal warning, a written warning, a suspension, and then termination, if the same errors continued.
But as complaints about Wettlaufer trickled in steadily, she kept on working. She was reprimanded for errors and was suspended on various occasions. Yet she would receive letters from management saying they valued her and wanted to give her opportunities to change.
“Did you think she was a good nurse?” asked Hewitt.
“I think we thought that she had the capabilities of being a good nurse,” replied Van Quaethem.
Wettlaufer was terminated from her job at Caressant Care in March 2014. It was reported to the Ontario College of Nurses, as required, which responded by saying they’d follow up on the termination paperwork. Van Quaethem doesn’t remember any followup.
It wasn’t until sometime in October 2016, after she retired, that Van Quaethem heard of Wettlaufer again. Van Quaethem had called Caressant Care, and asked the director of nursing, Helen Crombez, how things were going.
“’Oh Brenda, you don’t want to know,’” Crombez had said to her, the inquiry heard.
“’I couldn’t call you. I don’t know if I should be telling you this, but there’s a big police investigation going on – Bethe has confessed to murders,’” Crombez said.
Van Quaethem sobbed, as she told the commission she was and continues to be devastated by what happened.
“I felt so so bad for those residents and their families,” she cried.
“It didn’t cross my mind that she was harming residents.”