Two senior managers overseeing programs for more than 250 adults with disabilities in the Victoria area have been suspended from nursing for more than a year in response to "serious concerns" that include restricting their clients' access to medical care and their families.
Registered nurses Victoria Weber and Euphemia "Phemie" Guttin have both signed consent agreements with the B.C. College of Nurses and Midwives admitting to "unprofessional conduct" after a three-year investigation, according to a public statement from the college.
Both Weber and Guttin "effectively obstructed" parents' access to their adult children, the college says, and in some cases Weber failed to make sure clients received necessary medication or oxygen.
But despite what the college describes as the "serious nature" of their conduct, both Weber and Guttin have kept their jobs in high-level positions at the Garth Homer Society in Victoria — Guttin as the executive director for service operations and Weber as the senior manager for health services and education.
That's one reason why the college says it has taken the unusual step of alerting the public to the disciplinary measures against Weber and Guttin, explaining that highlighting these cases is necessary for public protection.
Three families and a former employee all came forward with complaints about the two nurses, and the college launched investigations into two other matters on its own, according to the public statement.
"The complainants raised serious concerns about the care their family members received in the residential care program," the statement says.
"These concerns were about the quality and safety of care delivered to their family members who are vulnerable adults, due to their cognitive, intellectual, and/or physical disabilities, and who could not effectively, or at all, advocate on their own behalf."
As a result of the investigations, Weber has agreed to an 18-month suspension of her nursing licence and Guttin to a 15-month suspension.
Both of them have been suspended from practising since May 2018 while the investigation was underway, but only 12 months of that period is now considered as time served, according to the college. That means Weber's suspension will be lifted in November and Guttin's in August.
In a written statement, the Garth Howard Society said it is relieved the investigation has finally wrapped up, but stressed the probe has not affected its services.
"Ms. Guttin and Ms. Weber continue to be integral members of the Garth Homer Team and have our full support and confidence. Both of them, in their consent agreements, noted they do not agree with every determination made by the [college's] inquiry committee," the statement reads.
'Silencing the voice of the client in care'
At the time of the complaints, Weber and Guttin were responsible for overseeing five residences operated by the Garth Homer Society.
A public notice about the investigation into Weber goes into numerous examples of concerns about the care she was providing and her obstruction of parents and legal representatives asking questions or advocating for their children.
The college's inquiry committee found that Weber enforced "rigid communication policies for parents and legal representatives," effectively preventing them from interacting with or advocating for their children.
Her actions "had the effect of silencing the voice of the client in care, several of whom had significant cognitive delays and barriers to communication," the public notice says.
In one case, when a parent revoked consent for residential care, Weber had their intellectually disabled child sign the consent forms instead, according to the college.
The notice also details how Weber repeatedly asked staff to send photographs of two clients in lieu of an in-person assessment, without obtaining informed consent to do so.
"When a client was exhibiting ongoing and concerning symptoms, she did not adequately assess the client, she did not adequately document her actions or directions to staff," the notice says.
The college found that Weber limited the ability of her staff to connect with other health professionals about their clients, failed to make sure one client received medications that had been ordered for them, and didn't make sure that another client had timely access to oxygen necessary for their care.
The notice about Guttin says she minimized the concerns of parents trying to advocate for children they'd cared for at home for decades, and failed to provide them with accurate information about their family members.
"The rigid communication policies for parents and legal representatives … effectively obstructed the parents'/legal representatives' access to and interactions with their child," the notice says.
"In cases where the client was cognitively challenged and non-verbal, [this] effectively eliminated the parents' role as an advocate, thus … silencing the voice of the vulnerable client in care."
Both Weber and Guttin will be subject to further disciplinary measures once their suspensions end, including limits on their practices, requirements for further education and supervision or mentorship.