Everyone benefits when the Ombudsman helps parties on both sides find quick, simple solutions.
If the Ombudsman’s office can facilitate a fair solution to address a complaint, we can reduce frustration for all. Early resolution is a preliminary investigative step where the Ombudsman investigator takes action to resolve the issue informally and as efficiently as possible. While early resolution techniques often result in quick case closure, our office also utilizes the method for more complex cases that require additional time but not necessarily a full investigation.
The following four examples demonstrate accelerated results when conscientious, responsive administrators prioritize fair resolution for the complainant. Fortunately, a willingness to do so is more the rule than the exception.
1. Maintenance Enforcement Program fast tracks refund
Through early resolution, the Ombudsman’s office can help accelerate normal processes in urgent situations. In this case, Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) mistakenly garnisheed the bank account of a man on welfare. The man’s rent was due, putting him under significant stress as he faced eviction and homelessness. MEP would have returned the money in the normal course of events, but the process typically took several days. After contact from an investigator, MEP took immediate steps to return the money to the man’s bank account, to his great relief.
2. Lost driver examiner documents found
Sometimes the Ombudsman draws attention to a simple mistake. A man failed his examination for a driver’s license. He attempted to file an appeal, but his request seemed to disappear and the man heard nothing from the department. The Ombudsman investigator called the department who acknowledged that it had recently reorganized and simply lost the appeal. The department found the request and the appeal proceeded.
3. Vital Statistics jumps to help
An 80-year old woman felt overwhelmed with the process required to correct the spelling of her mother’s last name on her birth certificate. Her mother, who had long since passed away, was born overseas and the documentation needed was difficult to acquire. When the Ombudsman investigator contacted Vital Statistics about the process, a staff member volunteered to help the senior citizen. Using local records, the staff member was able to substantiate the correct spelling of the mother’s name to make the necessary changes.
4. Going the extra mile
This next example involves Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Indigenous Services Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNHIB) (previously Health Canada). As background, in 2015 an indigenous woman required ambulance services. She believed that as an indigenous person she was exempt from paying the costs. Her understanding was based at least in part on an Alberta Health website excerpt, which stated, “Health Canada pays the user fee for emergency medical services for First Nations people.” The woman acknowledged receiving a bill in 2015, but did not pay it because she did not think she had to.
Five years later, AHS sent a bill for several hundred dollars to collections. The woman was unable to renew her mortgage as she had a “debt” in collections. The Ombudsman’s relationship to AHS is through the Patient Concerns Resolution Process (PCRP). PCRP explained AHS sent the bill to the woman in 2015 because no one in the province, including seniors and indigenous people, is ‘exempt’ from receiving an emergency medical services (EMS) bill. Anyone who uses EMS services will receive a bill. There is fine print on the bill that states you must contact AHS – EMS Accounts Receivable if you believe you have coverage for the bill. This is not clear on the Alberta Health website. After reaching out to a communications advisor with Alberta Health, they agreed its website could be clearer.
For the complainant, the Ombudsman’s office confirmed both that a manager within EMS Accounts Receivable was reviewing the woman’s situation and that she had the opportunity to seek further information directly from FNHIB. The Ombudsman does not have jurisdiction to investigate AHS or FNHIB decisions or the final outcome but as a result of the early resolution attempt, everyone contacted took the action they could to move forward.
The early resolution phase of the Ombudsman’s investigative process has proven effective in resolving complaints more efficiently. In 2019-20, the office closed 30% more written complaints using early resolution than in 2018-19.
The fundamental purpose of the Ombudsman is to be of service to people. While not every case is suitable for early resolution, reaching a fair outcome in the most efficient way is in everyone’s best interest.