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Rising complaints on health-care quality: Ontario patient ombudsman

The Canadian Press   

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By Liam Casey in Toronto

Ontario’s patient ombudsman says he has seen a rising number of complaints about poor quality of care in the health-care system and an increase in use of force by hospital security.

The findings come in the patient ombudsman’s annual report released today.

There were more than 3,300 complaints in the 2021-22 year, with most concentrated in the Toronto area and northern Ontario.

Patient ombudsman Craig Thompson says many complaints focus on access to care and a lack of adequate staffing.

They have seen a 43 per cent increase in complaints from patients and caregivers who said they were treated with a lack of sensitivity and caring, especially in emergency departments.

The ombudsman also says they received 22 complaints about alleged assaults by security guards.

“The system is certainly operating under quite a bit of strain, and we’re seeing that because the complaints are related to staffing issues and access to care,” Thompson told The Canadian Press in an interview.

The ombudsman’s report found staffing shortages, COVID restrictions and service delays, combined with the fatigue and trauma arising from the pandemic contributed to increased tension and occasionally violence in health-care settings.

There were 98 complaints about negative experiences with hospital security, the report said.

“Several complainants reported being restrained in an unsafe manner that is inconsistent with the standard training for security guards (for example, with a security guard’s knee on their neck or back) that could cause severe injury or death,” the report said.

Most of those incidents with security guards occurred in emergency departments, on mental health wards and at screening.

The ombudsman said many problems occur in emergency departments.

“Hospital emergency departments have become the crucible where many of these pressures on the health-care system ignite,” Thompson said in the report.

The ombudsman said he was concerned about how hospitals responded to complaints as patient-relations representatives often deferred to security. The report raised issue with the lack of a standardized process to investigate incidents involving security and hospital reluctance to share information with patients about who was involved in the incident.

The ombudsman also found that complaints about the conduct of security guards was not routinely shared with the Ministry of the Solicitor General, which oversees security guards.

The ombudsman said some hospitals undertook “comprehensive reviews” of security guard incidents. Several hospitals said they were “actively considering” a requirement for security guards to wear body cameras.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2023.

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