A former Fort Frances nurse has plead guilty to causing the death of one of her patients seven years ago, and sentencing is expected to take place this fall.

In a Fort Frances courtroom on Monday, 37-year-old Lindsey Coyle of Fort Frances plead guilty to one count of criminal negligence causing death and one count of failing to comply with a release order related to the death of 76-year-old Hermina Fletcher in 2015.

Fletcher was admitted to Fort Frances’ Laverendrye Hospital on December 20, 2014, described as being critically ill. But despite receiving treatment, she suspiciously died just 15 days later.

In an agreed statement of facts presented to the crown, Coyle, who was a 30-year-old Registered Practical Nurse at the time, admitted to manipulating Fletcher’s medical records to increase the patient’s dosages of morphine, so Coyle could steal the morphine and take it herself.

Fletcher’s morphine doses are reported to have increased from 2 to 5-milligram doses to 5 to 10 milligrams, and after an autopsy, her cause of death was determined to be morphine toxicity from the additional doses, and not from any natural causes.

Eleven days later, members of Laverendrye and its parent company, Riverside Health Facilities Inc, had contacted the OPP with concerns surrounding an amount of morphine that had been reported missing from hospital reserves, but not the death itself.

The OPP’s investigation found that more than 700 milligrams of morphine were missing from the hospital, and Coyle was the one signing out the drug. She would later admit to using the drug while on shift.

Riverside terminated Coyle’s employment by January 28, 2015. She would later lose her nursing license after an investigation by the Ontario College of Nurses in January 2016.

After a four-year investigation into Fletcher’s death, Coyle was eventually charged with second-degree murder, criminal negligence causing death, theft, breach of trust and uttering forged documents in August of 2019.

August 29, 2022 – the day of the trial – was the first day that much of this information had ever been released publicly.

“It was a really difficult day for the family in court,” said local lawyer Douglas Judson, who represented the Fletcher family in the case, in an interview with Q104, KenoraOnline and DrydenNow.

“It was a very hard thing to hear. That was the first time that those facts were really made public. That was a pretty emotional and difficult thing for the surviving family to experience. And what we heard was really disturbing,” adds Judson, noting over 20 members of their family were in attendance.

In a prepared statement after Coyle’s conviction, the Fletcher family notes Coyle has been out on bail over the last 7 years, the case has been adjourned and rescheduled 32 times over that span, and all of her remaining charges have been withdrawn.

They add that Hermina’s husband, Melvin, died without ever knowing what truly happened to his wife.

As well, family members have concerns that Coyle may have struck a ‘deal’ with the Crown Attorney, under which she may only receive a two-year jail sentence. As well, she may be eligible for parole and may not have to serve any time in custody – something the family says isn’t sufficient.

“This is one of the most serious crimes to come through a court in Fort Frances,” adds Judson. “It’s important that the sentence reflects the gravity of what’s happened here.”

“We have a healthcare professional, in a position of power and authority, committing a crime against a vulnerable person who is in a state of need and who cannot advocate for themselves. Our system needs to very strongly denounce that conduct.”

Judson explains that a pre-sentencing report, a document with additional information for the court, has been ordered ahead of a case management appearance in October, and Coyle’s sentencing could potentially still be ‘a few months away.’

In their statement, the Fletcher family says they are continuing legal action in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice against Riverside Health Care Facilities Inc., and are seeking a total of $3 million in damages. Judson is once again representing the family.

“It raises a lot of questions that people in this community might have about what’s going on in their local hospital. How long was this taking place? When was the hospital aware that these things were happening? Are there other victims out there? All of those questions are very disturbing,” muses Judson.

Riverside Health Care Facilities Inc. has not provided a statement in relation to the case.