How to complain about your health care, administratively

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Have you ever felt like there was something wrong about the treatment you received from a medical professional? Did you want to complain about it, but did not know how? Or to whom? And how can one know if a complaint about someone working for or with the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) is legitimate?

These questions and more are the subject of a CBHSSJB community tour organized by Louise Valiquette, the interim Commissioner of Complaints and Quality of Services, to inform Crees about her position and their rights in the health-care system.

“The complaints procedure is a tool to identify problems and make improvements, but it is not well-known or well-understood by the Cree people. It’s our responsibility to spread the word, even if it results in more complaints. The CBHSSJB believes that when our clients understand their rights, it makes the organization more accountable, and this helps us respond to the needs of the people in a proper and better way,” said Valiquette.

In each community Valiquette will meet separately with the band council, the community’s health professionals and residents to present a code of ethics, the patients’ rights, the duties for the personnel and the users’ responsibilities.

“If someone has a complaint, they just need to call or email me. If the person feels that they can’t express themselves sufficiently or they are shy, they can also have someone else call for them,” Valiquette explained.

“These complaints can be placed by the user, someone representing the user, or someone who feels that they have witnessed something. Anyone can make a complaint and I would have to accept an anonymous complaint if I find grounds for it.”

At the seminar, Valiquette will distribute pamphlets that explain the rights of CBHSSJB patients so that they have their own permanent record of what is right and wrong. Much of it details a code of conduct for everyone to be treated respectfully and with dignity.

One priority is a patient’s right to confidentiality; often an issue for anyone who lives in a small community and who is likely to have family members working in the system with access to their personal information.

“When you go to any facility within the CBHSSJB, whatever people learn about you or what’s in your file is entirely confidential. When you go there you need to be assured that nothing will be made public,” said Valiquette.

Making complaints is what can bring about change in the system when problems do arise. Valiquette said that when she gets a complaint, it can be explored and the underlying problem can be addressed. While some may vent on Facebook about a problem or situation that they are facing, Valiquette said she might offer a better ear to these problems.

“Every complaint may result in a new way of doing things that will improve services for others. We already know that there are some aspects of our services that need to be improved, but often a complaint will provide the specific details needed in order to make the right changes. Making a formal complaint takes time, but it is a real service to the community,” said Valiquette.

She will also explain the grounds for a legitimate complaint.

Valiquette said she frequently gets complaints from users regarding Cree Patient Services (CPS) over issues like transportation, accommodations and meals. However, some of these complaints may stem from the fact that that the actual procedures for CPS are not well known.

Valiquette’s department will address these issues with CPS to ensure that both the workers and patients understand policy and expectations.

She cites the procedure to obtain an escort to help a patient travel for treatment. While those under 18 or over 65 are automatically entitled to an escort, anyone else must request one from the doctor or nurse who is sending them for treatment. An escort may or may not be granted, depending on the circumstances of the patient. In some instances a doctor or a nurse may accompany the patient if monitoring or assistance is required.

Lodging is another source of friction. “People seem to think that they are entitled to choose the facility that they will get to stay in while getting medical care,” Valiquette observed. “The CBHSSJB provides the shelter for those seeking treatment but it is not up to the patient to decide where they will get to stay. The CPS decides based on the condition of the patient and what is available.”

On the other hand, when Valiquette receives a complaint regarding the behaviour of a doctor, nurse or pharmacist, it is passed on to a medical examiner with the expertise to evaluate what may have transpired between the parties.

This examiner will then follow up with the doctor, dentist or pharmacist to reach a conclusion. In almost every instance, conclusions of the medical examiner go into the professional’s file.

Valiquette is available to discuss a patient concerns. If the complaint does not fall under the jurisdiction of the CBHSSJB, she can often direct the individual to the right party to follow-up process.

She stressed that no complaint will lead to repercussions, as all complaints are confidential. Valiquette said she would deal with situations like these.

And, while this system may be new to some, in the years that they have had this process up and running, changes have already been made.

“I can say for certain that the complaints procedure has already resulted in improvements to the quality of services throughout the CBHSSJB. Even before this awareness-raising community tour, we have been receiving and dealing with complaints relating to medical acts, social services, as well as all the support services, such as patient transportation, reimbursements and MSDC programs. We are proud to report that we have resolved many complaints in the past few years,” said Valiquette.


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