Patient advocates have been hired by the Calgary Health Region,which wasin the spotlight last year when three women complained to the media ofbeing left to miscarry while waiting for help in emergency departments.

If patients can't resolve their complaints with front line staff, they can now ask for one of six new patient advocates, who will try to resolve the conflict by talking with both sides.

Dr. Ward Flemmons, who is the patient concerns officer for the health region, says patient advocates can't solve problems like bed or staff shortages, but can look at complaints.

"We'll commit to looking into a situation, reviewing it fairly and being as open and transparent as we can about what we found and what we think we can reasonably do."

If a patient isn't satisfied, someone outside the region will examine the case. If patients are still unhappy, they can complain to a provincial ombudsman.

Albertans believe complaints handled poorly

Each year the Calgary Health Region receives up to 2,000 complaints.

Dr. John Cowell, chief executive officer of the Health Quality Council of Alberta, said surveys show Albertans think health regions handle those complaints poorly.

"Of all the areas that we measure, the lowest satisfaction has been with complaint handling."

He hopes the patient advocates will encourage more people to bring forward their concerns. He says people don't bother because they don't think it will make a difference or they don't have the time to deal with a complaint.

Last summer Rick and RoseLundy made a complaint after she suffered a miscarriage in a hospital waiting room. Two more women later came forward with similar stories.

Rick Lundy now sits onthe region's patient concerns committee, which operates separately from the patient advocates. He says the advocates are a great idea, as long as they don't just side with their employer.

"I think it's very important that these people are very unbiased, not just trying to cover their tracks."