A Private Member’s Bill to amend the Ombudsman Act to include hospitals and long-term care facilities in the Ontario Ombudsman’s mandate received first reading in the Ontario Legislature on June 5, 2008. Bill 89, An Act to amend the Ombudsman Act with respect to hospitals and long-term care facilities, would (if passed) extend the Ombudsman’s powers to review the decisions, recommendations, acts or omissions of government bodies to include public and private hospitals and long-term care homes. The proposed amendments would ensure that approved charitable homes for the aged or approved charitable institutions, homes or joint homes for the aged or rest homes, homes for special care, nursing homes and mental hospitals fell within the Ombudsman’s mandate.

The Ombudsman is an independent officer of the legislature whose mandate is to ensure “government accountability through effective oversight of the administration of government services.” (More information is available at www.ombudsman.on.ca.) The Ombudsman has the power to review and investigate any decision, recommendation, act or omission of a government body that affects a person in his or her personal capacity for which there is no right of appeal or objection to any court or tribunal, or for which all rights of appeal or objection have either been exercised or have expired.

Following an investigation, the Ombudsman has the power to report government decisions, recommendations, acts or omissions that are, in his or her opinion, contrary to law, unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, improperly discriminatory, based on a mistake of law or wrong, to the governmental authority in question as well as the relevant minister. A recommendation for steps to be taken (such as further consideration, rectification, cancellation or variance) or reasons provided are to accompany the report. If action is not taken within a reasonable time frame, the Ombudsman may make a report to the Premier and the Assembly.

The Ombudsman also has the power to refer matters to appropriate authorities in the event that he or she is of the opinion that there is evidence of a breach of duty or of misconduct by an officer or employee of a governmental organization. The decisions of the Ombudsman may not be challenged, reviewed, quashed or called into question in any court.

At present, the Ontario Ombudsman does not have oversight over entities in the “MUSH” sector, such as boards of education, public hospitals, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, municipalities and universities. In 2007-2008, the Ombudsman received 276 complaints about hospitals and long-term care facilities. At present, the Ombudsman only has the power to investigate or review a hospital when a provincial supervisor has been appointed.

The Ontario Ombudsman’s mandate has not been revised in over 30 years and has a much narrower scope than that of other provincial ombudsmen. According to the Ontario Ombudsman’s website, ombudsmen in all of the other provinces, as well as the Yukon, already have jurisdiction over public hospitals. The ombudsmen in Alberta, Québec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and the Yukon also have jurisdiction over nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Prior to the introduction of the Private Member’s Bill, the former Minister rejected calls to give the Ombudsman jurisdiction over hospitals, saying that infectious disease experts should be leading any such efforts. With the new Minister, David Caplan, in office, it will be interesting to watch the progression (if any) of this Bill.