Thursday, March 10, 2011

Your rights and Ontario's bariatric surgical wait times


Today's a guest post from an anonymous writer who has sadly had first hand experience of how poorly Ontario's bariatric surgical program is being run - a frightening state of affairs given that Ontario is far and away the most progressive province in Canada when it comes to bariatric surgery.

Here this writer recounts his experience in getting Ombudsman Ontario involved where according to Ontario's Ombudsman's website,

"The Ombudsman’s job is to ensure government accountability through effective oversight of the administration of government services."
Health care of course is indeed a government service and if you remember from a post a ways back, Ontario's target wait times for a Priority II general surgery (like a gastric bypass), is in fact a scant 4 weeks, and even if you want to try to make the case the bariatric surgery is "elective", 26 weeks is the wait time target.

The writer believes that perhaps if more people made Ontario's Ombudsman aware of not only the incredibly long wait times, but the bureaucratic run around often associated with bariatric surgery in Ontario (for instance when my office called Ottawa they out right refused to provide us with any information at all regarding wait times, waiting lists, appointments etc. and stated clearly it was their policy to never disclose such information to anyone), that perhaps things might improve.

Here's what he had to say:
Bariatric Surgery Wait Times and Customer Service

Long wait times and poor customer service do not need to go hand-in-hand in Ontario, but it sure feels that way. Fortunately, there is a way to dramatically increase your chances of being treated with some respect by having your calls returned and perhaps finding out where you are on the waiting list.

What you need is an influential friend. Let me introduce you to Ombudsman Ontario, and how they helped my wife, and how they might be able to help you. These are the same folks who investigated police actions at the G20 summit, and found that the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care's policy on one cancer treatment "verges on cruelty", with their communications in the matter being "blatantly misleading".

They haven't really been aware of the problems in the bariatric system because nobody has been complaining to them. It's time to start. Complaining to the Ombudsman is not an appeal, with a lot of requirements. You can phone them, email them, write them... and they respond... promptly.

Within a week of my wife's letter, they were calling to follow up and investigate. Within two days, they had contacted both Windsor and Hamilton to find out what was going on. Another two days, and there a call from Windsor with information from Hamilton about a missing test, and an expected wait time.

There was a lull and the Ombudsman's office thought they were done and everything was going well, except that it looked like Hamilton was gearing up for a repeat of the assessment done in Windsor, and not willing to set an appointment with a surgeon until after that.

My wife called the Ombudsman again to explain that it looked like this was going to be wait time upon wait time. They stepped in again.

I'll cut to today's highlight. There was a call from a representative at the Ministry of Health to make sure that my wife received the message from Hamilton Bariatric for two appointments including one next Tuesday with the surgeon because Hamilton's coordinator had not yet heard that my wife had already confirmed with booking clerk.

My wife's complaint to the Ombudsman was treated as a Customer Service issue. The Ombudsman will not make medical decisions, or dictate to either the Ministry of Health or the bariatric centers. From my perspective, what they will say to the Ministry and bariatric centers is, "This is your system. Make it work."

A large number of complaints might cause the Ombudsman to escalate their investigation to one that looks at the system itself instead of just service for a single patient. This could benefit all of the patients stacked up awaiting assessment or surgery.

If you are stuck on Ontario's wait list, then you probably have something to complain about. It could be not having calls returned, not being told when to expect an appointment, having to re-do assessments, bad wait time data, or just excessive wait time. Even if contacting the Ombudsman doesn't speed up the process, you may be pleasantly surprised at being treated with respect.
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