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Ontario health-care complaints pile up as patient ombudsman role goes unfilled

Hundreds of patients have raised concerns about their dealings with hospitals, long-term care facilities and home care over the past year, Ontario's patient ombudsman's office says in a new report to be released Tuesday. 

Ford government hasn't filled patient ombudsman post since taking office in June 2018

The office of Ontario's patient ombudsman received more than 2,400 complaints last year, its third year in operation. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Hundreds of patients have raised concerns about their dealings with hospitals, long-term care facilities and home care over the past year, Ontario's patient ombudsman's office says in a new report to be released Tuesday. 

The report, obtained by CBC News ahead of its release, describes trends in complaints to the fledgling patient ombudsman office over the past year. 

Communication breakdowns in the health sector are a theme, the report says. That includes such things as patients getting inadequate information about their discharge from hospital or getting conflicting information about obtaining a long-term care spot.

Another trend in complaints revealed in the report is access to care, such as limited availability of mental health and addictions services and a lack of consistent home care.

The report pins some of the blame for the home-care complaints on what it calls "a system-level shortage of personal support workers," and says provincial funding is key to a solution.

Christine Elliott was appointed by the Liberal government in 2015 to be the province's first patient ombudsman, but then quit to run for the Progressive Conservatives in 2018. The Ford government has left the post vacant since it took office. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
 

"Patients and caregivers often reported that they had no notice that services would not be available on a given day and they were left on their own to put contingency plans in place," says the report. 

The Ford government said last week it is developing a strategy to address Ontario's shortage of personal support workers  

The patient ombudsman's office received more than 2,400 complaints last year, its third year in operation. Only 653 came in written form, a requirement before the office will launch a probe toward resolving the complaint.

For the past two years, the post of patient ombudsman has been vacant. It was held by Christine Elliott, the first person appointed to the job after its creation in 2015 by Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government. 

Elliott quit in 2018 to run for the Progressive Conservatives and is now health minister. The government only began recruiting for a new patient ombudsman last month. 

'Miscommunication, lack of communication and communication breakdowns continue to be significant factors underlying the vast majority of complaints received,' says a new report by the office of Ontario's patient ombudsman. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In the meantime the ombudsman's staff have been running the show, filtering through complaints from patients and taking up their concerns with health-care agencies. 

The patient ombudsman mandate is to investigate and resolve complaints about action or inaction that affect the patient experience with hospitals, long-term care homes and publicly funded community care agencies.  

It does not investigate concerns about clinical treatment decisions by physicians, nurses or other regulated health workers, as those are handled by their professional oversight bodies. 

The report comes as the Ford government embarks on a significant reorganization of the health-care system, while struggling to keep its promise to end hallway medicine

The patient ombudsman's office received more than 260 complaints last year about access to mental health and addiction services.

"Many of these complaints were from patients and caregivers who experienced delays or a lack of specialized services in their communities," says the report. 

The report also raises concern about the profile of the patient ombudsman among Ontario patients and their family members.

"We often hear that people are not aware of the help we can offer when they have problems with their healthcare," says the report.

 

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