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Victim's Family Requests Ministerial Investigation Following Coyle Sentencing

Statement on Behalf of a Client

For immediate release: August 29, 2023

Lawyers for the family of Hermina Fletcher, a hospital patient whose 2015 death resulted in criminal charges against a former nurse, have written to Ontario health minister Sylvia Jones to request an investigation surrounding the theft of morphine and narcotics at LaVerendrye Hospital in Fort Frances.


The Fletchers' letter points to information shared in court as part of former nurse Lindsey Coyle's criminal proceeding as raising the prospect of other victims or other patients and families whose care and safety were impacted.


Background


Coyle was charged with second-degree murder and other charges in relation to Fletcher's death on August 1, 2019. On August 29, 2022, she pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death. On August 28, 2023, she returned to court for a sentencing hearing. The presiding judge has reserved his decision, which is expected to be released later this fall.


Coyle was a nurse responsible for Fletcher's care while she was hospitalized at LaVerendrye, a public hospital operated by Riverside Health Care Facilities Inc. During Coyle's plea appearance last year, an agreed statement of facts was read in to court that indicated that during her shift at the hospital on January 3, 2015, she fraudulently amended Fletcher's morphine prescription to increase it from 2-5 milligrams to 5-10 milligrams. Coyle then recorded that she administered seven 10-milligram doses to Fletcher over the 12-hour shift. In reality, Coyle was stealing Fletcher's medication for her own use.


After Coyle failed to revise Fletcher's prescription again before leaving work, a subsequent nurse duly relied on it to administer two 10-milligram doses of morphine, which caused Fletcher to lose consciousness, responsiveness, and die on January 4, 2015. The coroner and forensic pathologist who reviewed Fletcher's death concluded that it was likely that Fletcher received little, if any, morphine during Coyle's shift.


In court, at the plea and sentencing appearances, it was confirmed that Coyle had been stealing drugs from the hospital for a longer period of time than Fletcher's hospitalization. Coyle also admitted to being "high as a kite" at work on numerous occasions. At sentencing this week, Coyle herself made comments to the court indicating that other families were impacted by her actions, again indicating that there could be other victims. Coyle also indicated that Riverside had made her sign a document which prevented her from going to police with a full account of her misconduct.


The Request to the Minister


In reaction to these disturbing revelations, the Fletchers have requested that the Minister of Health facilitate an investigation under section 8 of the Public Hospitals Act, which allows for investigation and reporting on "the quality of the management and administration of a hospital, the quality of the care and treatment of patients in a hospital or any other matter relating to a hospital where the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers it in the public interest to do so."


In their letter to the Minister, the Fletchers' legal counsel highlighted the statements made in court suggesting that there are other victims. The Fletchers also point out that it is entirely unclear how long drugs were going missing, how many drugs are unaccounted for, how many patients were harmed, or whether Riverside actively took steps to conceal this information from the public.


At the sentencing hearing earlier this week, several members of the Fletcher family read victim impact statements in court yesterday for Coyle's sentencing.


Members of the family are represented by Judson Howie LLP. Questions and requests will only be addressed through the contact identified below.


Quotes


"The events surrounding Mrs. Fletcher’s death and the conviction of Ms. Coyle have shaken confidence in our local hospital. It is the only hospital for hundreds of kilometres in any direction. The public ought to be assured that their loved ones are safe in that facility. Our community ought to know what happened, who was at risk or was harmed, why and how this occurred and for how long, and what measures are in place to prevent it from happening again. Because Ms. Coyle's guilty plea was based on agreed facts and her College of Nurses file is not public, there has yet to be any transparency into what happened or how far-reaching this grave misconduct was."

- Douglas W. Judson


"The Fletchers are shocked by the continued silence from the hospital on what took place within its walls. Ms. Coyle's sentencing was an opportunity for for the hospital to come forward and provide a community impact statement that actually acknowledged the broader harm that was done. Instead, what we heard yesterday in court from the accused was that the hospital may have taken steps to conceal the impact and extent of Ms. Coyle's actions. An arms-length investigation is the only way to restore confidence in this institution."

- Peter A. Howie


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Contact:

Douglas W. Judson

Email: doug@judsonhowie.ca

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