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Ontario vows to introduce advocate’s office for health-care complaints

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews is shown on Feb. 11, 2013.

PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Ontarians who have a bad brush with the health-care system will soon be able to take their complaints to a new patient advocate.

Health Minister Deb Matthews promised on Monday that her government will establish a provincewide, third-party office to which patients can appeal when they are not satisfied with their treatment at hospitals and other health facilities.

"What we're talking about is a health-focused patient advocate," Ms. Matthews told reporters after a speech to the Empire Club of Canada. "I get letters as minister from people who aren't happy with the care they've received. I think it's really important to turn those complaints into ways to improve quality."

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Ms. Matthews could not say when the office would open or what powers it would wield, but she made no mention of putting it under Ombudsman André Marin, who for years has pushed to investigate hospitals and long-term-care homes.

Ontario's ombudsman is the only one in the country whose scope does not include hospitals.

Mr. Marin slammed the proposal in an interview after the speech, saying a patient advocate would not be "independent and impartial."

"It's a voice for people who feel hard done by the system," Mr. Marin said. "So are you getting the value for the investment? In most cases, I would say no."

The Ontario NDP, which has also advocated to extend the ombudsman's scope, said a patient advocate falls short of the province's needs.

"We are not opposed to having a patient advocate with powers yet to be defined," said France Gelinas, the NDP's health critic. "But it will never replace the ombudsman."

The minister also hinted a pay increases for personal support workers, who make a minimum of $12.50 an hour.

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Ms. Matthews said it hard to combat turnover when workers can earn more at Tim Hortons.

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Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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