Two Garth Homer nurses face suspensions for unprofessional conduct

Two registered nurses continue to work at Garth Homer Society in Saanich after a three-year investigation into complaints from staff and family members concluded last month with suspensions from their nursing work for unprofessional conduct.

The B.C. College of Nurses and Midwives reached consent agreements with nurses Euphemia Guttin and Victoria Weber over complaints about their conduct and competence from 2015 to 2018 while the two were in senior leadership roles at the private and non-profit organization, which provides programs for people with disabilities.

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The complaints, filed by family members and one former employee, raised concerns about the care of adult residential clients who were vulnerable and unable to advocate for themselves because of their cognitive, intellectual, and physical disabilities, said the college.

The pair served interim suspensions during the course of the investigation into their nursing practice. As part of the consent agreements, Guttin will comply with a 15-month suspension and Weber an 18-month suspension for unprofessional conduct. Both were credited with 12 months as “time served,” according to the college in a public posting of the decision, dated May 28.

The two have been in administrative roles with the society and have not been working as registered nurses since the college announced the temporary suspensions in 2018, said Garth Homer Society CEO Mitchell Temkin. He said they will continue in those roles until the remaining three months of suspension is completed for Guttin and six months for Weber.

Temkin said the society is relieved the process is over. “Ms. Guttin and Ms. Weber continue to be integral members of the Garth Homer Team and have our full support and confidence,” said Temkin. He added that the three-year investigation didn’t affect the society’s services, adding that despite the pandemic, it’s been a “ time of unprecedented program ­development and innovation fo­r us.”

To return to a nursing role, both women will need to undergo additional education.

For Edith Artner, whose son began residential care at Garth Homer Society in 2017 and is now at another agency, the consent agreements are nothing more than a “supportive career-enhancement package” for continued education for the nurses, “while the level of care experienced by our special-needs children was not enhanced equally.”

Arnter’s son is blind and non-verbal and requires around-the-clock residential care. Artner claims he was given foods he couldn’t eat and some prescriptions were not picked up at the pharmacy or administered. She said that in trying to advocate for her son, she was shown disrespect and “silenced.”

Guttin was the subject of three separate complaints by clients’ family members and one complaint by a former employee related to the residential program from 2015 to 2018. As well as being executive director overseeing day programs for about 265 clients, Guttin was responsible for a program overseeing five residences housing medically complex clients. Her role included working with families and ensuring the quality of daily operations and compliance with policies, standards, and legislation.

The college’s inquiry committee determined Guttin “did not ensure that appropriate policies were in place for the residential housing program … did not appropriately or adequately respond to parental concerns … did not honour [parents/representatives] by failing to provide adequate or accurate information about their child.”

Guttin’s “rigid communication policies” effectively obstructed the parents’ or legal representatives’ access to and interactions with their children and their roles as advocates, “silencing the voice of the vulnerable client in care,” the inquiry committee determined.

Guttin acknowledged that in relation to the four complaints made about her nursing practice, her conduct breached the college’s professional and practice nursing standards and was unprofessional.

Weber, as the senior manager in health and education services, responsible for a program overseeing five residences housing medically and developmentally complex clients, was the subject of three separate complaints by clients’ family members, one complaint by a former employee, and two investigations initiated by the college from 2016 to 2018.

The committee determined Weber did not appropriately delegate, train or orient care staff and restricted staff’s ability to contact other health-care professionals about their clients.

In a few examples provided, Weber did not ensure medications were delivered and repeatedly and without consent asked care staff to take photographs of two clients and text her the photographs in place of in-person assessments, dismissed some parental concerns as unwarranted, and effectively obstructed parents’ access to their child.

In one case, the college reported, when a parent representative revoked consent for residential care, Weber had the client, who had compromised intelligence, sign the consent forms as a workaround.

Under the agreement, if Guttin continues to work as a nursing administrator, she must obtain a mentor for six months of executive coaching. If she wishes to engage in direct client care or clinical support, further education and supervision are required.

Weber must complete coursework related to collaborative professional practice, documentation and responsibility and accountability.

Upon return to work, Weber is prohibited for 18 months from being the sole registered nurse on duty, being in charge, supervising students, independently developing care plans, and working as a case manager, nursing supervisor or educator. To work directly with patients, she must complete at least 80 hours of orientation, followed by a minimum of six months’ supervision.

The college said it is confident the oversight ensures any future problems will be “promptly reported to [the college] so that, if necessary, further action can be taken.”

The college took the “unusual step” of highlighting the agreements “as part of meeting our public protection mandate,” noting both women worked in senior leadership roles delivering programming to about 250 adults with disabilities.

The college said the decision should serve as a reminder to all nurses of their obligations to adhere to their professional and practice standards and to always be mindful of boundaries and power imbalances with vulnerable clients.

Temkin said the Garth Homer Society services continue to be in high demand, supporting about 200 individuals.

Families continue to express “a high level of satisfaction with our services,” he said, adding a recent accreditation survey had no ­recommendations.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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