“There is no effective, independent, investigative oversight of hospital administration. Period.” – Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin, 2008
Ontario has been resisting Ombudsman oversight of its public hospitals for long enough. Marin says he is not the first to demand this oversight – Arthur Maloney called for this extension of the Ombudsman’s scope in 1975, and successive holders of the office have followed suit to successive and unresponsive governments of all stripes.
Last week NDP Leader Andrea Horwath added Ombudsman oversight of health care to her shopping list of initiatives to improve the spring budget.
Given recent experiences with ORNGE and the diluted chemotherapy drug error, one would think that the time has finally come, Ontario the last province to issue such powers.
Marin himself wrote to the Premier in March regarding changes the province was making in the wake of the privatization scandal at ORNGE. Marin pointed out that Bill 11 would create “new bureaucracy of special investigators” which would report to the Minister of Health and Long Term Care, not to Provincial Parliament.
“Far from being watchdogs, they would operate on a ministerial dog leash,” he wrote.
Similarly the position of ORNGE “patient advocate” is even more toothless, reporting not to the public or to Parliament or even the ORNGE board of directors, but to the ORNGE vice-president.
The Tories fume about extending the Ombudsman’s oversight as some kind of “expensive game,” yet there seems to be no end to spending on less effective oversight measures.
The Tories, including Hudak, also told the Ontario Coalition for Accountability that they supported the idea of expanding the Ombudsman’s role. So why fume at the NDP for raising it now?
If anything, the Ombudsman’s oversight of health care has actually been in decline in recent years. When the province’s psychiatric hospitals were divested from the Ministry of Health in the mid-to-late 2000s, so too were they divested from the Ombudsman’s oversight as independent hospitals.
Marin has repeatedly called for oversight not just on health care, but also on the rest of the MUSH sector – municipalities, universities, school boards, and hospitals.
Premier Kathleen Wynne has not addressed the Ombudsman issue to date, instead preferring to play politics by ramping up her exasperation with the NDP opposition demands. Isn’t this what the opposition is supposed to do?
It is unlikely that Ombudsman oversight will be the deal breaker in the coming budget, but for all parties it should be the right thing to do.