Ontario ombudsman calls for overhaul of ‘wholly inadequate’ paramedic services oversight system

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Ontario’s ombudsman is calling on the provincial government to revamp the oversight system for paramedic services, saying it’s “complicated, overburdened, and wholly inadequate.”

“Emergency ambulance service can mean the difference between life and death, and we see this now more than ever as our medical services struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Paul Dubé said in a statement issued Thursday morning.

“It is the ministry that has primary responsibility for ensuring that the emergency health care patients receive is consistent with the law and service standards. It has neglected patient safety by failing to adequately monitor EMS providers, dispatch centres, and Ornge (air ambulance).”

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In a report called Oversight 911, Dubé and his office reported finding “several serious concerns” as part of their investigation, which was started after probing 72 complaints from a whistleblower, patients, and the families of patients.

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Among the team’s findings were “serious issues” surrounding the conduct of paramedics, medication errors and other problems not being investigated because government staff viewed those as “outside of [their] purview,” a lack of policy for how investigations should be done, an understaffing of investigative staff, a lack of information on how to file complaints and instances of no follow-up for those who did file complaints, and no centralized tracking of complaints to identify systemic issues.

“With so many people being transported by ambulance due to the pandemic, the changes we are recommending are timely and valuable,” Dubé said.

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As a result of the investigation, he made 53 recommendations to the Ontario government in response to the issues identified.

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The main recommendations centred on calling for all complainants to be interviewed by ministry investigators, instituting a new customer service policy for following up with those who file complaints, creating a centralized case management system, broadening out the mandate for investigators and establishing clear ways to follow-up on issues flagged by investigators.

Global News contacted Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office to ask for comment on the ombudsman’s report, but a response wasn’t received by the time of publication. However, Dubé praised Ontario Ministry of Health staff for cooperating with the probe and for beginning to implement the recommendations, adding the ministry agreed with all 53 proposals.

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In Ontario, approximately a million people are transported by 8,000 paramedics with 61 different services each year at a cost of $1.5 billion.

Do you have any information about the issues identified by Ontario’s ombudsman? Contact Nick Westoll at nick.westoll@globalnews.ca.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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