This month Elder Voice interviewed Kim Carter, the Ombudsperson for British Columbia. The Ombudsperson’s office deals with concerns regarding all citizens in B.C. We focused on Seniors.
The Office of the Ombudsperson is an extremely important resource for citizens of B.C. who have a complaint regarding a public agency. This article explains what the Office is, what it does, how and when to contact it, and how complaints are investigated.
The Office of the Ombudsperson’s mandate is to ensure that people have received or are receiving fair and reasonable treatment.They are advocates for fairness from provincial public agencies.The office can be particularly helpful for people with limited resources, those who have minimal experience in dealing with provincial government agencies, or who may find it difficult to complain due to physical or cognitive challenges.
The Ombudsperson’s office has existed for thirty one years. They can take their findings to a government minister, the legislative assembly, and the public, “which may cause authorities to think about how they would explain (an action or decision) to reasonable members of the public…, ” Ms. Carter told us. They have the authority to make recommendation and release their findings. Further, “We have the power to shine a light on issues and have the power to speak up about them.”
The Ombudsperson is mandated to investigate complaints about public agencies such as provincial ministries, health authorities, provincial boards and commissions, and crown corporations. She is not able to become involved with matters involving the police, matters covered under the Freedom of Information Act, or matters under federal jurisdiction. Although the Ombudsperson’s office is not mandated to investigate complaints about private companies, such as private nursing homes or assisted living residences, they can become involved when there is some jurisdiction or responsibility through a provincial government agency. For instance, a private nursing home must be licensed by a Health Authority and the Ombudsperson can intervene with the Health Authority to work with the nursing home.
To resolve a complaint with a public agency, begin by going through available channels, such as the manager in a local health unit, or the health authority liaison connected to a nursing home. Contact the Ombudsperson’s office if you have been unable to resolve the issue or you have still not received what you consider fair and reasonable treatment from.
When you call the Ombudsperson’s office the first person to whom you will speak is a call coordinator. If it appears that their office is unable to help, the call coordinator will refer you to the correct place. If your concern is under their mandate, it will be forwarded to a complaint analyst who will take all of the relevant information and open a file. Your file is assigned to an investigator who does the investigation. Files are assigned according to their urgency. 60% of the files are resolved within three months, 99% within a year. Provide the investigator as much specific information regarding your concern as possible. This would include relevant dates, people involved, previous attempts to reconcile, etc.
Typically an investigator will start by collecting all the information and documents available from the person who is making the complaint. An investigator will then seek out and analyze any other relevant information, such as policies, regulations or legislation that applies to the situation. The investigator will explain the complaint to the agency involved and ask the staff there to provide any relevant information. After collecting and analyzing all this information and asking lots of questions, an investigator will consider what would be a fair resolution for all concerned and see whether that would be acceptable to both the agency and the person with the complaint.
It is unusual for an agency to refuse to accept a resolution that an investigator has proposed.However, if an agency does refuse, the investigator has the option of taking this to the Ombudsperson herself, who can then decide to go to the relevant minister with the issue. If the minister is unwilling to implement the resolution she believes is fair in the circumstances, she can then issue a formal recommendation, table a report in the legislature and make it public. This is very rare in the case of individual complaint investigations.
Often the intervention of the Ombudsperson’s office leads an agency or organization to review their process and develop a different response to a complaint. However, It is important to note that if the investigator concludes that an issue has been dealt with in a fair and reasonable manner, they will not ask the agency or organization to change their policy or treatment.
A complainant is not always happy with the resolutions that are propsed by the investigator.Sometimes the change a complainant is seeking can only be brought about at the political level, or the kind of outcome they’re seeking is not something an agency has the power or authority to carry out. But as Ms. Carter said, “we always explain what we can look at and what we can’t, as well as the reasons for whatever conclusions we reach.”
Click here to view the Ombudsperson’s website.To contact their office call 1-800-567-3247. In Victoria (250) 387-5855
Kim Carter is a lawyer and was in the military for thirty one years where she was a chief military judge. She retired in 2006 and became B.C.’s Ombudsperson. She explained, ” (Being the Ombudsperson ) is for me, a way of participating in a process that helps government treat people fairly.”
Intervention by the Ombudsperson: An Example
An elderly woman, Ms C, complained that her local health authority failed to provide her with adequate home-support services. She said that her husband was recently placed in a care facility, but she remained at home with a number of different medical problems that made it increasingly difficult for her to cope on her own.
Ms. C noted that most recently, problems with her knees made it impossible for her to transfer herself into her wheelchair to get to the washroom. This led to concerns about personal hygiene. Both her home-support case manager and her physician seemed unsympathetic, telling her she was not trying hard enough to cope on her own. She wanted an immediate increase in her home-support hours, but her goal was to obtain a bed in a care facility, for she felt that even with adequate support she could no longer cope at home.
Ms. C had limited interpersonal skills, and it seemed possible that her some what confrontational manner might have obscured her real need for additional help. We advised the health authority of the complaint and were pleased with the immediate and helpful response. Ms. C’s home-support needs were re-assessed immediately and her hours were doubled. A further assessment was conducted some days later and her hours were again increased. In the meantime, the health authority placed her on the waitlist for the first available long-term care care bed in her community and a place was found for her only a few days later.
“The Best of Care:” A Special Ombudsperson Report
The Ombudsperson’s office is concerned not only with individual concerns but also with systemic issues of fairness and reasonableness. When you bring a concern to the Ombudsperson, you are helping to fix things for others as well as yourself. Besides looking into individual concerns the Ombudsperson investigates and makes recommendations regarding systemic issues in public agencies which affect British Columbians.
The 2009 report, “The Best of Care” was the result of the Ombudsperson hearing multiple concerns from many seniors, caregivers, and professionals. The investigation visited fifty care facilities, and received information from hundreds of people across B.C. The result was ten recommendations regarding care, seniors’ rights, the provision of and access to information, and Family and Resident Councils in care facilities. A second follow up report is scheduled to appear this year.