More than 1,000 written complaints in 2013-14

Last year, the Alberta Ombudsman received more than 1,000 written complaints. Not only is this is an increase of 11 per cent from the previous year, but it’s the first time the office passed that mark since 1995.

It’s just one of the findings in our 2013-14 annual report, released this month.

Peter Hourihan, the Alberta Ombudsman, says the organization’s awareness building efforts have likely contributed to the rising numbers, though the volume of complaints has been rising steadily in recent years.

“We’ve made a serious effort to reach out and visit communities across the province last year,” said Hourihan. “Ensuring Albertans are familiar with our services, and what we can do to assist them, has been a priority.”

Of the 1,008 written complaints received, the most common complaints involve:

  • Justice and Solicitor General: 171 (includes Correctional Services at 109, and the Maintenance Enforcement Program at 46)
  • Human Services (includes Child and Family Services Regional Authorities at 43; AISH at 27; Appeals Secretariat at 19; and Income and Employment Supports at 32): 148
  • Workers Compensation Board: 54
  • Health Professions (includes the College of Physicians and Surgeons at 36): 52
  • Appeals Commission for Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board: 30

Telephone complaints have risen as well, at 3,847, up 14 per cent from last year.

The Alberta Ombudsman is also improving the efficiency of investigations. Four years ago, the office completed 140 investigations. Of these, 68 were less than a year old. Last year, the Ombudsman closed 185 investigations, with 121 of them less than a year old.

“This means we’re making progress in managing our investigations more efficiently, while taking on an ever-growing number of cases,” said Hourihan. “It also means we’re helping more Albertans get answers and solutions to their concerns. So whether we can help someone find a quick answer on the phone within an hour, or if a complaint merits a formal investigation, we want to make sure we’re using the right investigative approach.”

The annual report also highlights recent work conducted by the Ombudsman’s Own Motion Team (essentially, it’s a special investigative unit that tackles investigations on any matter of the public interest under our jurisdiction, and initiated by the Ombudsman’s ‘own motion’). Created in 2012-13, the team is wrapping up three investigations: one is investigating issues identified with the Citizens’ Appeal Panel and the department of Human Services; another investigation is exploring the delivery of health care at the Edmonton Remand Centre; and the third investigation is reviewing the Disciplinary Hearing process for provincial corrections.

“These investigations are important, as they allow us to explore issues and make wider-ranging recommendations to improve systems we may not have otherwise been able to do through individual investigations,” says Hourihan.