This op-ed was originally published in the Edmonton Journal, August 31, 2016
It is encouraging that Sheree Kwong See, Alberta’s first permanent seniors advocate, will assume office on Sept. 1. Since early 2015, when the interim seniors advocate left to become an assistant deputy minister, the province’s health advocate, Deborah Prowse, has assumed both roles.
However, if the appointment of Kwong See is not followed by a redefinition of the role, the advocacy positions described in a recent Journal headline as a “work in progress” may turn out to be a tragically missed opportunity.
The roles of the health and seniors advocates as they are defined today were developed in 2014 by the former Progressive Conservative government as toothless offices to assist people who stumble across them to navigate the troubled waters of our health and seniors care systems.
Such a definition was intended to bolster the impression that there is nothing wrong with the health and seniors care systems, but that people just need a bit of help to find their way around.
The former government certainly didn’t want offices that were independent from the ministries capable of shining a light on actual problems and making the problems public in reports to the legislature.
A more meaningful redefinition of the roles of the Alberta health and seniors advocates would make them officers who report directly to the legislature, like the child and youth advocate. Changes should also give them the mandate to: monitor the health and seniors care system, investigate complaints, initiate inspections where necessary and refer unsatisfactory situations to the legislative enforcement system.
With such powers, the health and seniors advocates could radically improve the quality, safety and public understanding of how our health care and seniors’ services function in this province.
The potential impact of a meaningful new job description is illustrated by the first report from the British Columbia seniors advocate issued in January 2016.
This report, called Monitoring Seniors’ Services, reviews all health-care facilities, housing, transportation, income support and elder abuse services for seniors in that province.