Québec Ombudsman's 37th annual report - HIGHLIGHTS



    QUEBEC CITY, June 7 /CNW Telbec/ - Here are the highlights of the Québec
Ombudsman's 37th annual report, tabled this morning by the Speaker of the
National Assembly of Québec.
    Ombudsperson Raymonde Saint-Germain commented on nine Government of
Québec departments and agencies for the 2006-2007 fiscal year. These
organizations stood out in light of the numerous complaints regarding them, or
because of recurrent problems or broad issues with an impact on a large number
of citizens.
    For the first time this year, the Québec Ombudsman's report incorporates
the report produced under section 38 of An Act respecting the Health and
Social Services Ombudsman. The Ombudsperson reported on the investigation of
complaints concerning bodies in the health and social services network,
commenting on numerous problems regarding the quality of services and respect
for the rights of users.

    
                          THE PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION

    Nearly 85% of citizens' complaints regarding the public administration
involved six organizations.

    MINISTERE DE LA SECURITE PUBLIQUE

      - Civil protection

    The Ombudsperson interceded in the issue regarding the erosion of the
banks of the St. Lawrence, emphasizing the importance of timely and
comprehensive information. Citizens residing in the Côte-Nord region, after
having been advised of risks to their property and personal safety in the fall
of 2004, received no further details in this regard for close to two years.
Since November 2006, the department has been coordinating the actions of the
five departments involved, and has announced the implementation of a
preventive framework. Despite these initiatives, citizens throughout Québec
are still waiting for news of concrete actions-the what and when-that will be
taken by the various departments.

      - Correctional services

    In its capacity of correctional ombudsman, the Québec Ombudsman
investigated 1,588 complaints, the grounds of which were deemed substantiated
in 507 cases. Twenty-five per cent of these concerned health care, and an
additional 12%, the loss of rights or privileges.
    An Act respecting the Québec correctional system came into force in
February 2007. The Ombudsperson believes that this reform promises positive
impacts for the safety of the public and for social harmony in Québec. Its
success must therefore be closely monitored, particularly as the problems
noted this year indicate that serious efforts will be necessary to ensure
objectives are reached.
    Overcrowding in facilities has been a problem for many years. Not only did
the situation fail to improve, but detention conditions have deteriorated.
Social reintegration programs, particularly in the area of drug rehabilitation
and conjugal violence prevention, are being cancelled because of lack of
space. The budget cutbacks that facilities must cope with are, moreover, hard
to align with the new legislation's objectives.
    Facilities are claiming that they no longer have even the tiniest leeway
to adequately perform their mission. Furthermore, all employees work in an
environment that is extremely demanding and difficult.
    The Ombudsperson is of the opinion that programs extended in communities
and detention facilities must be maintained and improved, to promote reaching
social reintegration objectives while preventing subsequent offences.

      - Compensation for victims of crime

    Reaching decisions, paying compensation or reimbursing victims' fees can
often take as long as several weeks or even months. The Ombudsperson hopes
that the modernization plan introduced in early 2006 by the Direction de
l'indemnisation des victimes d'actes criminels will rectify this major problem
regarding the quality of services to citizens.
    While the adoption of Bill 25 represented major inroads, the Ombudsperson
still believes that the plan, which dates back to 1931, must undergo a
comprehensive reform. She submitted numerous recommendations in this regard to
the task force created by the Minister of Justice to review the compensation
plan for victims of crime.

    THE SOCIETE DE L'ASSURANCE AUTOMOBILE DU QUEBEC

      - Compensation of road accident victims

    The Québec Ombudsman received 266 complaints regarding this activity
sector of the SAAQ. Of the 361 submitted, 160 had substantiated grounds. This
represents 45% of all complaints, a percentage that the Ombudsperson finds
worrisome.
    The SAAQ's overall performance from a quality perspective was considered
unsatisfactory. For example, time frames for providing medical opinions were
still as unreasonable as in previous years, with accident victims waiting an
average of over three months, during which time some of them were without
income. As regards decisions concerning accident victims' ability to return to
work, the SAAQ failed to appropriately explain its grounds, thereby preventing
citizens from properly understanding the decisions taken and consequently
preparing any necessary review applications.
    The Ombudsperson is closely monitoring the implementation of the SAAQ's
action plan, which should contribute to improving the services delivered to
citizens.

      - The Highway Safety Code

    Complaints submitted to the Québec Ombudsman regarding road safety
decreased as a result of improvements to the Service de l'évaluation médicale.
The Ombudsperson nonetheless observed that the SAAQ continues to have
difficulty acknowledging its mistakes with regard to its clientele. She also
noted that in several situations she was apprised of, the information made
available to citizens was inadequate.

    THE MINISTERE DU REVENU DU QUEBEC

      - Taxation

    The 322 complaints regarding the Revenu Québec's taxation sector clearly
indicated dissatisfaction among citizens. Highly varied in nature, they
concerned collection measures and annual contributions, as well as the penalty
and interest amounts charged taxpayers. The Ombudsperson's investigation
uncovered numerous problems in how Revenu Québec processes documents. These
deficiencies in the processing of documents were also addressed in official
complaints.

      - The collection of support payments

    The Québec Ombudsman emphasized that improved program management has
resulted in a diminishing number of complaints over the past three years.
However, certain factors are still of concern. Most of the complaints with
substantiated grounds received this year regarding this program were from
citizens who called upon the Québec Ombudsman after having unsuccessfully
attempted to resolve a given situation with Revenu Québec. The Ombudsperson
feels that if the department is right in its assertion that these problems are
not caused by excessive agent workloads, more complex files should be
processed by agents who have less contact with citizens.

    THE COMMISSION DE LA SANTE ET DE LA SECURITE DU TRAVAIL

      - Compensation and rehabilitation of workers

    This CSST activity sector was the subject of 262 complaints, 31% of which
were deemed to have substantiated grounds.
    In any given year, reviewing complaints about the CSST brings to light
recurrent problems. The CSST is not adequately fulfilling its duty to properly
inform citizens of the grounds justifying its decisions, and there continue to
be instances of situations handled or cases assessed on the basis of
incomplete or inadequate documentation. Furthermore, the Commission has a
tendency not to adjust its policies and processes according to trends in
Commission des lésions professionnelles jurisprudence, even when it has a
clear majority, when this jurisprudence is not favourable to the CSST.

    THE MINISTERE DE L'EMPLOI ET DE LA SOLIDARITE SOCIALE

      - Financial assistance

    For several years now, the Québec Ombudsman has been drawing the
department's attention to situations calling for a more flexible approach,
particularly as regards vulnerable persons. Communication lines stayed open
this year, and the department collaborated in the development and
implementation of solutions tailored to its clientele's specific
characteristics.
    The Ombudsperson proposed amendments to the Individual and Family
Assistance draft regulation as a means of ensuring that all citizens needing
last-resort assistance at a given point in their lives be treated fairly and
equitably.

      - Parental insurance

    The Québec Ombudsman received a significant number of complaints during
the first few months following the introduction of the new Québec Parental
Insurance Plan. The Ombudsperson feels that the department's adjustments in
this regard proved efficient and improved availability. However, she noted
that the draft regulation failed to foresee certain situations concerning plan
eligibility and weekly income calculations.

    THE MINISTERE DE L'EDUCATION, DU LOISIR ET DU SPORT

      - Aide financière aux études

    The percentage of complaints regarding financial assistance where the
grounds were substantiated was 31%, compared to 45% in 2005-2006. This
improvement was in part due to the department's commitment, which the
Ombudsperson acknowledges and applauds, to conducting an in-depth review of
its Contact computer system. This exercise allowed for correcting various
problems that were detrimental to students during the processing of loan and
bursary requests. Remaining problems primarily concerned the calculation
method, the amounts granted students and the methods adopted to collect
outstanding student loan amounts.

                         HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES

    Three types of establishments accounted for nearly 75% of all user
complaints: hospital centres (39.8%), CLSC home support programs (21.5%), and
residential and long-term care centres (13.4%).

    CONTROL OF SERVICE QUALITY

    The coming into force in April 2006 of Bill 83, An Act to amend the Act
respecting health services and social services and other legislative
provisions, brought about major changes to responsibilities in the health and
social services complaints processing procedure. The year 2006-2007 was thus
one of transition for numerous parties, including the department, network
actors and the Québec Ombudsman.
    The Ombudsperson felt it important to comment on the introduction of
measures to strengthen the existing process, currently under the aegis of the
Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, as optimal operations are
necessary to ensure the rights of users. The Québec Ombudsman held a survey of
the presidents of the boards of directors of establishments, the persons in
charge of support and assistance centres, and the persons responsible for
handling complaints, with troublesome results.
    On the one hand, delays were noted in 45% of establishments with regard to
hiring commissioners responsible for complaints and quality of services. On
the other hand, the ability of these establishments to execute all of the
tasks assigned to them was far from a given, specifically because of the time
available to them and the high number of facilities each had to oversee.

    ESTABLISHMENTS

      - Hospital centres

    As was the case in past years, hospitals still headed the pack, with
180 complaints, representing 36% of all the complaints related to health and
social services investigated by the Québec Ombudsman. A total of
116 recommendations ensued from the 74 complaints with substantiated grounds.
    Clinical and professional aspects of health care and services, the pricing
of private and semi-private patient rooms, and transport fees were the
elements most often addressed in user complaints.

      - Local community service centres (CLSCs)

    Most of the complaints regarding CLSCs received by the Québec Ombudsman
involved home support services. The situations brought to its attention
confirmed that resources were sorely lacking, with the result that CLSCs found
it difficult to meet the needs of citizens.
    This wide gap between needs and resources had a direct impact on the lives
of citizens, who failed to receive the services necessary given their health
condition or who were subject to repeated delays. The Ombudsperson would like
to see the department strive to more closely align the Politique de soutien à
domicile and the availability of services in the territory.

      - Residential and long-term care centres (CHSLDs)

    Assessment visits by the department, combined with the complaints and
reports received concerning CHSLDs, indicated that some of these facilities
were experiencing difficulties. Investigations by the Québec Ombudsman too
often unveiled poor knowledge of departmental policies in carrying out daily
activities. The Ombudsperson feels that action is urgently needed, as users
are not receiving the quality services to which they are entitled. There are
also cases where services are delivered in an environment that does not meet
the standards for ensuring the safety and comfort of residents.

      - Youth centres

    The Ombudsperson feels that the clientele of youth centres is growing,
while problems are evolving rapidly. For example, the percentage of children
needing protection in light of their medical health problems had grown in many
of the centres visited. Over the next year, studies and further visits will
provide the Québec Ombudsman with a clearer picture of the situation.
    Elsewhere, youth and their families benefited from the national training
program introduced for all sector actors.

      - Rehabilitation centres

    The majority of complaints involving rehabilitation centres focused on
instances of intellectual disability, with users mostly griping about
eligibility for treatment.
    The Ombudsperson was dismayed by the numerous problems experienced by the
parents of children with a pervasive development disorder. Some complained
that services were no longer available once their child reached the age of
six, while others claimed that no services were offered to these citizens once
they became adults.
    The Québec Ombudsman is currently studying the difficulties these parents
are having obtaining services from the health and social services network, the
care services network or the educational system. This investigation aims to
prepare comprehensive documentation as a precursor to proposing concrete and
realistic solutions for all of the persons affected.

    SPECIFIC PROBLEMS

    Beyond the mission of establishments, the Ombudsperson focused on
situations that compromised user rights or fairness with regard to access to
services. Based on the complaints received this year, she paid specific
attention to the following problems:

    - risk management and hospital-acquired infections;
    - respect for persons suffering from mental health problems;
    - the use of force, isolation and chemical substances as a means of
      placing people under control;
    - the rates for private and semi-private hospital rooms;
    - access to physical therapy services.
    

    MEANINGFUL EXAMPLES

    The Québec Ombudsman's analyses, be it with regard to the public
administration or in the health and social services sector, were based on its
observations, as deduced from investigations of complaints and reports
received. In this regard, the annual report includes numerous examples of the
problems observed.
    -%SU: CPN,LAW
    -%RE: 37




For further information:

For further information: Dominique Bouchard, Information Officer, (418)
643-2688, Cell.: (514) 346-2643,
dominique.g.bouchard@protecteurducitoyen.qc.ca; Source: The Québec Ombudsman


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