Ombudsman Ontario

Ombudsman Ontario

June 17, 2008 13:30 ET

Ombudsman Says Time is Ripe for Hospital Investigation: Annual Report

New investigative team to enforce municipal "sunshine law"

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - June 17, 2008) -

ATTENTION NEWS EDITORS

Ombudsman Andre Marin's third annual report, released today, documents his office's success in helping thousands of Ontarians in the past year - and questions why hospital patients don't have the same recourse to his services.

Citing the recent outbreaks of C. difficile, dire conditions in some long-term care facilities and the province's unprecedented number of hospital takeovers in the past year, Mr. Marin says the time is ripe for Ontario to catch up with every other province in Canada and give its Ombudsman the power to investigate complaints about hospitals.

"Ontario can no longer afford to be dead last in Canada in this area," the Ombudsman says. "The time for change is now."

The Ombudsman praised the government and all the political parties for supporting his investigations and accepting his prescriptions for change in many other areas - but questioned why hospitals and long- term care facilities, which receive some $18 billion from the government every year, should remain immune to independent scrutiny.

"Hundreds of government organizations fall under our scrutiny and are the better for it; why should these most important institutions, which literally deal with matters of life and death, be left out?"

The public has become increasingly outspoken about the need for independent oversight of hospitals, the Ombudsman says, noting that he and his predecessors have been calling for his office's mandate to be extended to the MUSH sector - and hospitals in particular - for 33 years. In 2007-2008, the Ombudsman received 276 complaints about hospitals and long-term care facilities.

"There is a revolution building - not necessarily the revolution the government initially promised in long-term care, but a common revolt," he says.

Mr. Marin's report reviews the sweeping reforms made by the government in response to his investigations in 2007-2008 as well as in previous years. Investigations by the Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT) this past year prompted an overhaul of how Legal Aid Ontario handles funding of major criminal cases, improvements to the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services' public communications regarding Tarion Warranty Corp., and the funding of oxygen saturation machines so children with severe respiratory disorders can be treated outside of hospital. The province also made further progress on the Ombudsman's earlier recommendations regarding property tax assessment, criminal injuries compensation, newborn screening and the lottery system.

The Ombudsman is also announcing a new investigative team today to focus on his new responsibility for enforcing the law requiring municipal meetings to be open to the public. The Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team, or OMLET, will specialize in investigating public complaints about local government meetings that are held behind closed doors, as part of amendments to the Municipal Act that took effect January 1, 2008. The Ombudsman handles complaints in all municipalities that have not appointed their own investigators - about 200 municipalities across the province. To date, he has received 61 complaints about closed meetings and published two investigative reports.

"This is an exciting time for all who care about official openness," the Ombudsman says in his report, while noting the system got off to a bumpy start. "So far we have encountered two trends that must be addressed - a thirst for government transparency on the part of the public, and a dearth of information about the new requirements and the investigative regime at the official level." OMLET will also work to raise awareness of the "sunshine law" and "descramble" its interpretation, he says, noting: "And yes, I hope the memorable acronym will help draw attention to this important new issue."

The report, available at www.ombudsman.on.ca , also details numerous examples of how Ombudsman staff were able to help individuals with everything from health insurance payments to child support to finding a long-lost family member.

Full report, backgrounders and more are available at www.ombudsman.on.ca.

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