Metro Morning

Christine Elliott to advocate 'for people who don't have a voice' as patient ombudsman

Former Progressive Conservative MPP and deputy leader Christine Elliott is less than two weeks into her new role as Ontario’s first patient ombudsman, but she has clear goals as an advocate “for people who don’t have a voice.”

Former Progressive Conservative MPP assumed post on July 1

New Ontario patient ombudsman Christine Elliott says she will "advocate for fairness in health care." (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Former Progressive Conservative MPP and deputy leader Christine Elliott is less than two weeks into her new role as Ontario's first patient ombudsman, but she has clear goals as an advocate "for people who don't have a voice."

Elliott officially took her post on July 1. However, her staff have been conducting consultations to determine the biggest complaints from patients and their families and caregivers.

Some of the most notable gaps in care she noticed when she was her party's health critic, which still exist today, include transitions between types of care, as well as communication, she said.

"When people are moving from hospital to home, when children transition from children's services to adult services, it's making sure that it's a seamless experience for patients and that's where we hear there's the most problems," Elliott told CBC's Metro Morning on Tuesday.

"And mostly it comes down to communication. There's just not that communication between patients and family and caregivers, or sometimes between the health sector organizations themselves. So we want to help make that a painless, seamless experience for people."

While her office will handle complaints filed by individual patients, their families or caregivers, her staff will also compile those complaints to identify trends. She can then launch an investigation and report the findings to the minister of health.

'I know why I'm there'

Unlike other oversight offices in the province, including the auditor general or the privacy commissioner, the patient ombudsman is not an independent officer of the legislature. Elliott reports to Health Minister Eric Hoskins.

She was a harsh critic of the Liberal government on the health-care file when in opposition. However, she says she was critical "for a reason and based in fact," which is the approach she plans to take in this role.

"I know why I'm there, why I got hired for this job. I got hired to be able to advocate for fairness in health care," she said.

"I'm not a patient advocate but I am advocating for fairness. And if I see a situation where a patient and family need help and have been treated unfairly, I have no hesitation in going to the wall for them."

Her office will aim to resolve individual complaints, she said. But she also learned through the consultation process that patients "don't necessarily expect that."

"What they really want is what we call the common good. They want to make sure that no one else has to go through the same negative experience that they had and that they can help improve patient care overall. So they see me as being an advocate or their voice to bring that forward."

If a case can't be resolved quickly, it will be assigned to an investigator for an in-depth look. Resolving those issues may be more complicated as her office looks at the complaint and the institution in question's response.

As the health-care industry moves from a focus on institutional care to a focus on patients and their experience, Elliott  said, a role like hers is necessary "to make sure that their voice is heard amidst all of the other voices in the health-care discussion."

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