A Kelowna woman who was treated by an imposter nurse at B.C. Women’s Hospital is speaking out, saying she feels violated and that the dismissive way health officials are dealing with her situation is making it worse.
Chaelene Peeren, 28, underwent surgery to treat endometriosis at the Vancouver hospital on April 27. The surgery was intended to give her a chance to have a child and it worked; she’s currently 21 weeks pregnant.
The procedure was poised to become the backdrop of a much bigger life shift but that changed this week when she received a letter signed by Cheryl Davies, the chief operating officer of B.C. Women’s Hospital, saying a perioperative nurse who assisted with her surgery was not actually licensed.
“We understand this is potentially worrisome and apologize for any distress this letter may cause you,” Davies wrote.
Worrisome is an understatement, Peeren said.
“(The news) was hard to accept and I didn’t really know how to feel,” she told Global News Tuesday.
She went to work the day the letter arrived, but had a hard time functioning, finding herself puzzling over what she’d learned in the letter and, more so, what she hadn’t.
More clarity came the next day and she was offered a better idea of what happened when she read a news story about another woman who received the same notice.
That’s when she learned that Brigitte Cleroux, 49, was the fake nurse at the centre of the story.
Cleroux faces criminal charges in B.C. and Ontario, including criminal negligence causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon, obtaining by false pretense, uttering forged documents and personation to gain advantage. She has not completed nursing school or held a valid nursing licence anywhere in Canada.
“Just to find out the trust I had put in the team – because you expect a certain thing – was violated, I can’t describe how that felt,” Pereen said.
Peeren deals with anxiety and has mistrust with medical professionals already, due to years of her endometriosis going undiagnosed and ignored. So she fears this experience will further challenge her ability to access medical care in the future.
She’s also finding herself second-guessing how the surgery went, now focusing on things like the pain that she felt in the recovery period and wondering if it’s related to something Cleroux did.
Knowing that she may long feel repercussions makes the apology in the letter from Davies seem like “lip service,” said Pereen, adding details will help her move forward.
Pereen wants to know specifically what part of her treatment Cleroux was involved in, what she did and what the health authority will do to make sure nobody has to go through something like this in the future.
“I know (Cleroux) was never alone, but that’s terrifying,” she said.
“I’m not sure how they can make it better, but they need to do something and communicate it to us … we have been told that no action is needed. That’s a fairly dismissive letter.”
Adding insult to injury, the letter provided a phone number for people to access more information if needed. Pereen says she’s called multiple times and nobody has either answered or called back.
It was not immediately clear how many patients Cleroux worked on in Vancouver, what duties or services she provided, or whether there were any adverse outcomes relating to her work.
“We can assure the public that we are reviewing this matter fully to determine how this occurred, any internal processes that may have contributed to it, and impact to patients,” a provincial health services authority spokesperson said on Nov. 25.
“PHSA is working in partnership with (Vancouver police) and will be communicating directly with potentially impacted patients in the next week who are confirmed to have received care from this individual.”
Morgyn Chandler, managing partner with the law firm Hammer Co. Lawyers, said her firm has received 20 calls in the last few days, and has been retained by several patients.
“My first thought was ‘This is absolutely unacceptable,'” Chandler said. “These individuals were at an extremely vulnerable position when they were patients at B.C. Women’s and understandably they’re taking some time to process all of this.”
She said that potentially 1,000 women may have been impacted, but noted it’s too early to say.
“Our job now is to investigate how this happened, how this was allowed to happen, and then figure out what the individual’s legal options are and how we can protect their rights moving forward,” she said.
A class-action lawsuit is one avenue they are looking at.
“It can be a very effective tool in some cases. And again, we’re at the very early stages of our investigation, so it’s difficult to say whether that will be the best option,” she said.
“In this case, it may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, but that is certainly one option that we’re investigating.”
Chandler said the women she’s spoken to are processing what happened and they have questions about what their legal rights and obligations are. It’s something the firm can help with, but it’s not the first priority.
“It’s important that these women are also looking after their own mental health,” she said. “This news was shocking and, as I say, a lot of them are still having a difficult time processing it.
“So first and foremost, we encourage everybody to reach out to their own medical treatment providers, their own psychological support, to ensure that they have the support that they need.“
In June, the British Columbia College of Nurses and Midwives issued a public advisory, warning that a woman calling herself Melanie Smith, Melanie Thompson or Melanie Cleroux was falsely holding herself out as a registered nurse.
“BCCNM reminds all employers in all practice settings of their obligation to verify the registration status for new employees in the roles of registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses, licenced practical nurses, nurse practitioners, and midwives with BCCNM via the nurse verification or midwife verification on the BCCNM website or by directing an inquiry to the BCCNM Registration department,” it said.
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