Candidates slam lack of accountability at healthcare debate

St. Paul’s MPP Dr. Eric Hoskins was put on the hot seat Thursday evening when, at a debate sponsored by the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, a member of the public wanted to know why Ontario is “the only province in Canada that does not allow the Ombudsmen to investigate complaints about hospitals?”

Politicians from Ontario’s four major parties gathered at St. Michael’s Hospital for healthcare-focused debate hosted by Executive Director of the RNAO, Doris Grinspun. “Politics is a way of life, but policy is a way of living and that is why we are here today,” Grinspun said, as she introduced the field of contenders..

Joining Hoskins, the Liberal incumbent for the riding, was Progressive Conservative candidate for Kitchener-Waterloo, MPP and former Ontario Health Minister, Elizabeth Whitmer, Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, and Sudbury NDP MPP, France Gélianas.

Gélianas spoke out against a policy that states that even though the Ombudsman of Ontario is appointed to oversee the government and investigate complaints from the public, he has no ability to intervene in matters concerning hospitals and doctors.

“Life and death happens in hospitals.  Changing this is long overdue.  Lots of people die there, yet this is a part of our government services that the Ombudsmen can’t look at,” Gélianas said.

“The Ombudsmen gets hundreds calls a year and he must say to people who want closure, ‘I’m sorry the government won’t allow me to help you’”.

Linda Williamson, the Director of Communications for Ontario Ombudsman André Marin, says this leaves a gap in the services that the Ombudsmen offer.

“We are funded by the government, the government funds the hospitals, so a lot of people wonder why,” said Williamson.

“We receive over 250 phone calls a year in regards to hospitals and complaints.  We have to try and refer them to other people.”

Hoskins argued that 20 years ago there was not an Ombudsman to be found in Canada whose powers could extend to hospitals and even now patient confidentiality remains a major concern.

“This is a matter of balancing privacy issues with accountability.  It means we need to strengthen that and make sure that there is strong patient advocacy,” Hoskins said.

“At the same time, it was the Liberals who allowed freedom of information to extend to colleges and universities and hospitals, but privacy is also important.”

Whitmer said that the PCs would hold hospital CEOs accountable on quality, performance and privacy issues.  The Tory platform outlines how a Hudak government would monitor the performance of hospitals through strengthening Ontario’s Health Quality Council.  If hospitals are not providing adequate service, the CEOs will be held accountable.

“We want to have a health and quality council to monitor and report on the healthcare system.  We hope these performance measures will provide better results,” Whitmer said.

“Ultimately we will look at the highly paid hospital CEOs for accountability; we need to hold them accountable.”