The Pandemic Changed Complaints Made to Saskatchewan’s Ombudsman in 2020

The 2020 annual reports for Saskatchewan’s Ombudsman and Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner, Mary McFadyen, were tabled in the Legislature today. While some complaints to her Office continued as usual, the pandemic affected others. Complaints about long-term care facilities and correctional centres increased, but complaints about Social Services, SGI and Crown utilities decreased. Twelve of the 41 contacts made to her Office under The Public Interest Disclosure Act were related to the pandemic.

As Ombudsman, McFadyen said, “In a year when so much changed, it was important people could contact us if they felt a government service was being unfair to them or they were falling between the cracks.” Some highlights from the report include:

  • The Office received 51 complaints about long-term care, about a third of which were related to COVID-19. Some people were concerned about whether protocols were being followed and whether enough precautions were being taken, while others felt the rules were being applied too strictly or wanted greater access to family members in care.
  • Government services and programs needed to adapt their rules to the pandemic. For example, a Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disabilities (SAID) program recipient told us that Social Services required him to get a new doctor’s note to continue to qualify for a special dietary benefit – but he could not see his doctor in person due to the pandemic. He called us, worried the benefit would be taken away. With our help, Social Services answered his concerns and assured him he was not going to lose his benefit.
  • In another case, SaskTel denied Wi-Fi service to a resident who had an unpaid account balance, but who needed Wi-Fi so he could upload data from his CPAP machine to his doctor’s office (instead of attending in person, due to the pandemic). We made inquiries and found out SaskTel did not fully realize his circumstances. Once SaskTel had all the relevant information, it promptly provided him with Wi-Fi.
  • While complaints about municipalities increased overall in 2020, complaints about council member conduct (conflicts of interest, code of ethics violations) went down. Several people contacted the Ombudsman’s Office in 2020 with concerns about municipalities charging unreasonable fees for copies of municipal documents. The report includes investigations into two such examples.

McFadyen also expressed her thanks to the public sector employees her Office worked with: “Many government employees were working remotely, but continued to be responsive to our questions, so we could, in turn, deal with the complaints made to us.”

As Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner, McFadyen was encouraged that more public sector employees contacted the Office in 2020. The Office received 41 inquires and disclosures compared to 25 in 2019. She hopes this means that public sector employees are more aware of their protections under The Public Interest Disclosure Act and that they are less afraid to speak out if they think there is a potential wrongdoing in their workplace. She also noted, as of December 2019, these protections were extended to employees of the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency. In 2020, she received nine contacts from Saskatchewan Health Authority employees.

As an update, the Ombudsman’s investigation into Extendicare Parkside’s handling and response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s and Ministry of Health’s oversight and support provided to Extendicare Parkside is ongoing. The results will be made public later this year.

Both annual reports are available at The Ombudsman and Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner is an officer of the Legislative Assembly who operates under The Ombudsman Act, 2012 and The Public Interest Disclosure Act. Her Office promotes and protects fairness and integrity in the design and delivery of government services.

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