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Patient lawsuits say fake nurse caused ‘excruciating’ pain, loss of trust in health-care system

Seven women who say a serial imposter posing as a nurse left them in “excruciating” pain, exposed them to infection, injured them or personally insulted them have all filed lawsuits, alleging negligence by the operators of the Vancouver hospital where Brigitte Cleroux worked for a year.

The seven new claims, filed in B.C. Supreme Court last week, also raise concerns that Cleroux, who has never completed nursing school or held a valid licence, was allowed access to the patients’ personal information and medical records. They say this left them vulnerable to fraud and identity theft by someone with a long history of similar crimes.

The lawsuits each name 52-year-old Cleroux, the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) and the B.C. College of Nurses and Midwives (BCCNM) as defendants, alleging both the health authority and the college are vicariously liable for physical pain and psychological suffering caused by Cleroux’s actions during gynecological surgeries at B.C. Women’s Hospital.

None of the allegations in the claims have been proven in court, and no responses to the lawsuits have been filed.

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Imprisoned in Ontario, Cleroux awaits Vancouver trial

Spokespeople for the PHSA, which runs the hospital, and BCCNM, which regulates nursing in B.C., both said they were unable to comment while the matter is before the courts. 

Cleroux’s criminal defence lawyer, Chris Johnson, told CBC that he and his client were unaware of the new lawsuits and therefore unable to comment.

Cleroux is currently in prison in Ontario, serving a seven-year sentence for crimes including impersonation, assault with a weapon and assault related to her time posing as a nurse at a fertility clinic and a dental clinic in Ottawa in 2021.

She is awaiting trial in Vancouver for 17 criminal charges related to her time at B.C. Women’s Hospital between June 2020 and June 2021, including allegations of assaulting 10 patients.

An aerial photo shows a hospital campus surrounded by trees and single-family homes, with the Vancouver skyline, English Bay and the North Shore mountains in the background.
Brigitte Cleroux worked at B.C. Women’s Hospital in Vancouver for a year. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

She has also been charged with impersonation and fraud in Surrey, B.C., where she is accused of defrauding a local dental surgeon in 2020. 

CBC has confirmed that Cleroux impersonated a nurse at a private surgery clinic in Victoria and at a long-term care home in Vancouver during her time in B.C. as well, although she has not been charged with any crimes in connection with those positions.

In all, Cleroux has amassed at least 67 criminal convictions as an adult. She has been accused or convicted of pretending to be a nurse in Colorado, Ontario, Alberta and B.C., and has posed as a teacher in Alberta and Quebec.

Warnings of a ‘problem nurse’

The new lawsuits outline a range of alleged misconduct by Cleroux that the seven women say left them with lasting psychological damage including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and distrust of the health-care system. 

They include claims of Cleroux improperly administering pain medication during surgery, leaving three patients in such “excruciating pain” that their doctors allegedly had to pause or even cancel their procedures. Four patients allege Cleroux sent them home with inadequate medication that caused them to have serious pain for days after surgery.

One woman’s claim describes Cleroux making “numerous damaging and disparaging comments” about her fertility problems and ability to care for a child. Those insults, the lawsuit alleges, caused the patient to delay her plans for an embryo transfer.

Another patient’s notice of civil claim alleges Cleroux caused her “unnecessary and excruciating levels of discomfort and pain” and put her at risk of infection during the failed insertion of an IV line before surgery in October 2020.

Her notice of claim describes Cleroux as hostile and dismissive, and alleges that after several unsuccessful attempts to insert a needle in her arm “handled the plaintiff in an aggressive manner, using her knees and body weight to hold her down, causing the plaintiff to fear for her safety.”

A closeup photo shows the gloved hands of a health-care worker in green surgical scrubs, holding a piece of gauze above an array of surgical tools.
The Provincial Health Services Authority has said that Brigitte Cleroux was involved in the care of 899 patients at B.C. Women’s Hospital. (Chanawit/Shutterstock)

Cleroux nicked the patient’s artery during the struggle, the claim alleges, causing her to lose blood. Eventually, another nurse had to insert the IV.

The patient claims she was later approached by two hospital staff members who described Cleroux as a “problem nurse.”

The day after the surgery, the same patient alleges she received a call from the hospital advising her to get an HIV test because Cleroux had also been pricked by a needle while she was wrestling to insert the IV.

Yet another patient’s claim alleges an improperly inserted IV damaged her nerves or blood vessels, still causing pain and weakness years later.

Each of the patients alleges battery, privacy violations and negligence.

LISTEN | Sharing the bizarre story of a serial imposter: 

The Current23:47The Professional: the bizarre story of serial imposter Brigitte Cleroux

Brigitte Cleroux worked as a nurse, a teacher, and more — but she was a serial imposter, without qualifications. The CBC’s Bethany Lindsay brings us her documentary The Professional, in which the people who came face to face with Cleroux share their stories and confusion about how this could ever have happened.

Cleroux is also the subject of a proposed class-action lawsuit filed by patients at B.C. Women’s Hospital. 

PHSA filings in that case have revealed that she was involved in the treatment of 899 patients during her time at the hospital.

The health authority has said that Cleroux used the name of a real nurse, Melanie Smith, when she applied to work at B.C. Women’s, but told administrators she didn’t have a registration number yet because she had recently transferred from Ontario.

Documents filed by PHSA show that because of Cleroux’s deception, the health authority is now confirming both the name and licence of every nurse it hires. 

Cleroux’s next appearance in criminal court is scheduled for June 21 in Vancouver.

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