Tuesday, 21 May 2013 09:41

Alberta’s Ombudsman set to tour southern Alberta

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Anyone who wants to learn more about the Alberta Ombudsman and how his office can help people with complaints about fair dealings with government departments can find out more during a tour of Southern Alberta.


Alberta Ombudsman Peter Hourihan, along with some of his staff, will be in Lethbridge May 30. He will speak at the Lethbridge Public Library from 12:15 to 1 p.m. and then individual consultations with investigators will take place from 1-3 p.m. He will also be at the Medicine Hat Public Library the day prior on May 29 for the same times.
“One of our newer priorities is to increase the awareness Albertans have about our office,” says Hourihan about the reason behind the southern sweep of the province.
The Alberta Ombudsman is an independent officer of the provincial legislature. It is his responsibility to investigate complaints by people affected by the administrative actions of Alberta government departments, boards and agencies.
“I’m not an alternate decision maker,” points out Hourihan.
It is his job to simply comment on the fairness of a decision, but that doesn’t mean a different result in the end. For example, a person who has applied for benefits through Worker’s Compensation and was denied, could ask the Ombudsman to look at the case for matters of fairness.
“(The applicant) has to exhaust all avenues of appeal within the board that is available to them,” points out Hourihan.
The Ombudsman office, with 23 employees, is an office of last resort where legislation and policies can be reviewed. In many cases, the Ombudsman learns that the complainant was not given reasons for why his or her application was denied. That isn’t fair and the government body may be told they need to provide reasons for denial, however, the decision to deny won’t be reversed.
“We are looking at the process and the fairness of the decision,” adds Hourihan.
The decision may benefit future applicants because policy may be changed moving forward.
The Alberta Ombudsman has jurisdiction over many professional organizations including most health colleges that regulate doctors, nurses, dentists and health technicians as well as people who complete patient concerns resolution process at Alberta hospitals can make use of his services. That jurisdiction is only over non-elected employees of government, not elected officials such as MLAs.
Hourihan finds his office deals with a variety of cases, but many surround the benefit-type programs such as Workers Compensation, AISH and aids to daily living.
“My experience in dealing with (government) departments is they want to get it right and they serve Albertans well. It doesn’t mean they always achieve that...”
Between the two offices — one in Calgary and one in Edmonton — use is high with about 5,000 calls received each year. Of those between 55 to 60 per cent relate to matters the Ombudsman has no jurisdiction over. Of the remaining 40-45 per cent, about 20 per cent of those become investigations.
Office workers are able to help callers work through process though and Hourihan says he wants Albertans to call his office as soon as they’re not sure when to call.
“It’s an important service we provide. We can tell them where to go (for help) and help them understand what is and isn’t government.”
It also gives Hourihan a better sense of what his office should have jurisdiction over.
“Our goal is to make sure Albertans are aware of us,” explains Hourihan. “(Even if we can’t help directly we can) guide them through the processes out there and help them in whatever capacity we can.”
Anyone who wishes to meet with an investigator during the open house for a more in-depth session can book an appointment by phoning the Ombudsman’s complaint line at 1-888-455-2756 toll-free. Individuals are also welcome to just show up for the open house to learn more.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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