Health minister misses deadline, ombudsman concerned

Health Minister Ron Liepert and the province’s Out-of-Country Health Services Appeal Panel failed to meet a July 10 deadline to respond to problems identified by Alberta Ombudsman Gord Button.

Health Minister Ron Liepert and the province’s Out-of-Country Health Services Appeal Panel failed to meet a July 10 deadline to respond to problems identified by Alberta Ombudsman Gord Button.

In May, Button released his report Prescriptions for Fairness with 53 recommendations to improve the quality and fairness of decisions, and redress four applicants — including two families from Red Deer — who were treated unfairly in the past.

“I’m concerned that neither the minister of health and wellness or the appeal panel responded within the 45 days I recommended in the report,” Button said on Tuesday.

“I will be following up and ensuring they respond as soon as possible. There’s a lot of people waiting.”

Button said he hasn’t received anything from Liepert. He wrote Liepert a letter on Monday asking for an update as soon as possible.

On Monday, he received a letter from the appeal panel’s legal counsel acknowledging they had not met the deadline, but will be meeting on July 29 to consider his recommendations.

One of the recommendations was that the appeal panel re-hear four cases, including that of a Red Deer mother who took her twin toddlers to Chicago for help with their severe sleeping disorder in 2005 and a Red Deer woman who had lung cancer surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in 2003.

Button’s report is based on an investigation announced in December after applicants were denied funding by the Out-of-Country Health Services committee or panel without a clear explanation as to what evidence was considered and what criteria were used.

In many cases, the committee and panel determined services were available within Canada, but did not explain how they reached that conclusion, including what is considered a reasonable wait time for health services in question.

Button said he anticipates responses from the minister and panel “in the not too distant future.”

If they don’t respond in a reasonable time, he will consider other options like tabling a report in the Alberta legislature.

Button is also working with Alberta Health Services as it develops a provincewide resolution process for patients with health care concerns now that nine health regions have been dissolved.

“It should have been in place April 1. I’ve had a series of meetings with the team leading that transition,” Button said.

The ombudsman can hear patient complaints after a decision has been rendered from a complaint resolution officer and patients still feel they’ve been unfairly treated.

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