Provincial government introduces legislation and advocates

Alberta’s new Health Act will finally come into force on January 1 2014 four years after it was passed in the provincial legislature. With it comes a health charter outlining the rights of Albertans in the provincial health system and three public advocates: a dedicated health advocate a seniors’ advocate and the already appointed mental health patient advocate.

“It is clear by the number of inquiries we receive each day that an advocate role would provide increased assistance to Albertans and their families in understanding how the health-care system works and how to navigate it” Health Minister Fred Horne announced in a press release.

George VanderBurg associate minister of seniors added that accessing services was a major issue during his recent tour of seniors’ facilities in the province.

Alberta Health spokesperson Matthew Grant says “with the growing number of Albertans… and with the growing number of services we heard that some people are finding it difficult to get a way-point into the system. And so what these advocates will be able to do is… ensure that they are directed to the appropriate place. They’ll help them navigate and they’ll also be able to take on certain questions and queries should the system not have the appropriate mechanism in place.”

MLA Heather Forsyth health critic for the Wildrose party argues the government should reduce the roadblocks in the health care system rather than appoint advocates to help people navigate it.

“What I’ve been told by Albertans is the fact that it’s the government that has made it difficult to navigate” Forsyth says. “I’m hearing just even to try to figure out where to order toilet paper is confusing let alone trying to find out about more important issues that are important to Albertans. It’s just chaotic and no one knows who to report to.

“They’re not dealing with the problems in the system. That’s access that’s opening up more OR spaces so more surgeries can be done that’s hiring more doctors…. The minister was very clear that this did not deal with access and that’s the number 1 concern with Albertans” says Forsyth.

The Alberta government has appointed a number of public advocates in recent years to deal with accessing government services and investigating problems. In addition to the three health-related advocates there is also a utilities consumer advocate child and youth advocate farmers advocate and property rights advocate.