Lawyer and policy adviser Mary A. Marshall has been appointed Alberta’s first health advocate.

The role was created in the 2010 Health Act which finally comes into force on January 1 2014. Marshall will spend the first four months of her six-month interim appointment preparing the Health Advocate Office for consolidation with mental health patient advocate Dr. Michael Trew and the yet-to-be appointed seniors advocate.

Why so many advocates? Government engagement studies discovered Albertans frequently have trouble navigating our notoriously complicated health-care system. The three advocates will act as a one-stop shop connecting Albertans with the appropriate health program or facility refer their concerns to the right government agency provide public education on patient rights and investigate patient complaints.

For a 30-day period scheduled to begin in mid-January Marshall will also supervise a public comment program to inform the government as it drafts the Health Charter which Marshall says she is “looking forward to.”

“The role of the health advocate is absolutely central to the Alberta Health Act” Health Minister Fred Horne said at a December 19 press conference. “When people have concerns or they have difficulty navigating the health system their issues do not fall into nice neat little boxes called mental health senior services and health-care services. They are interwoven…. In many cases it’s the confusion and the lack of effective co-ordination between multiple domains in the system that result in people experiencing difficulty in accessing care and in some unfortunate circumstances some very bad outcomes in the health-care system.”

Marshall has already worked as a policy advisor to the governments of Alberta Ontario Yukon Northwest Territories and the federal government and has served on the boards of the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Mental Health Association.