OMBUDSPERSON Jay Chalke on Monday called on the Province to amend its long-term care visits policy to address outstanding fairness concerns, and to ensure the policy is implemented consistently across all health authorities.
“I welcome the provincial health order issued last Friday that legally requires all long-term care facilities – public and private – to apply the visits policy issued last month by the Ministry of Health. This Provincial Health Officer’s order, which requires a province-wide consistent approach, is an important and helpful step,” said Chalke. “However, as a result of complaints to my office that we investigated, I continue to have concerns about the associated ministry policy and how it is being implemented. The Provincial Health Officer’s order expressly anticipates that amendments to the Ministry of Health policy may be required and I am calling on the ministry to make needed improvements.”
Three changes to the policy and its implementation that the Ombudsperson is calling for are:
• Mandatory timelines for visit-related decision-making by facility staff, and for each stage of the appeals process in order to ensure timely outcomes
• A specific requirement that a person whose visits are denied or restricted be provided brief written reasons for the decision by the facility operator, which helps the impacted individual understand the rationale for the denial and to decide whether an appeal is warranted
• Consistent and easy to access public information about the public health order, policy and process. Currently information continues to be difficult to locate on health authority and the Ministry of Health websites and is not up to date on some of these sites
“It’s important that the requirements of timely decisions and written reasons be expressly added to the Ministry of Health policy because that way they are made binding by the Provincial Health Officer’s new order,” said Chalke. “These shortcomings are unnecessarily amplifying an already difficult situation.”
During the first wave of the pandemic, the Ombudsperson investigated a number of complaints about long-term care visitor restrictions. In August 2020, the Ombudsperson raised several fairness concerns with the Office of the Provincial Health Officer and the Ministry of Health about the visitation framework including:
- the patchwork of public health orders and decision-making approaches rather than a province-wide approach
- the procedures for making and evaluating visit requests and communicating the resulting decisions
- an inadequate appeals process
- a lack of transparency and inadequate public communication about the visitation policy
“While some of these issues have been addressed, family and friends of long-term care residents are continuing to come to my office frustrated and confused about the decision-making process to see their loved ones,” said Chalke. “These are important decisions and the stakes are high. Therefore, it is imperative that, where it is necessary to restrict visits to protect the health and safety of long-term care residents, such restrictions be done in the most just, fair, consistent and reasonable way possible. The policy – and access to it – can easily be improved in some important ways and it should be.”
The Ombudsperson reminds members of the public who have unresolved concerns about how the long-term care visits decision-making process has been applied to their situation to contact the office.
The Office of the Ombudsperson is an oversight office, independent of government, that has jurisdiction over more than 1,000 provincial and local public bodies in British Columbia. It has a statutory mandate to receive and investigate complaints from the public when they feel they have been treated unfairly when receiving government services. The office’s services are free, confidential and impartial. For more information visit www.bcombudsperson.ca