Here's how the COVID-19 pandemic affected Ombudsman complaints in Sask.
REGINA -- Provincial Ombudsman Mary McFadyen released her annual report Thursday afternoon, this year there was a new focus on complaints related to the COVID-19 response and Saskatchewan corrections facilities.
When the province declared a state of emergency in March 2020, many public agencies were forced to shift the way they interact with people in Saskatchewan and how they deliver services.
In 2020, the Ombudsman received 2,492 complaints that were within its jurisdiction, 477 of those complaints – or 14 per cent – were related to COVID-19.
While the pandemic drove complaints against some agencies up, it also resulted in fewer complaints for others. The Ombudsman said in 2020, complaints related to corrections and health services increased, while the Ombudsman saw a decrease in complaints about Social Services, SaskPower and SGI.
McFadyen said people weren’t driving as often when they were working from home, which resulted in fewer complaints about SGI. SaskPower temporarily stopped disconnecting services during the pandemic and halted active collection on overdue complaints, which also resulted in complaints going down.
HEALTH AND LONG-TERM CARE HOMES
The Ombudsman’s report shows complaints about the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) rose in 2020, along with complaints about SHA affiliates and other health care organizations.
Complaints about the Ministry of Health tripled, jumping from 21 in 2019 to 65 in 2020. The Ombudsman said about half of these were related to public health measures and were referred to the Ministry.
The Ombudsman said they received 26 complaints about the SHA in 2020, compared to 16 in 2019. About one third were related to COVID-19.
According to the report, 51 complaints were filed about long-term care homes, which includes facilities operated by the SHA, non-profit and for-profit operators. The Ombudsman said some people thought restrictions taken in the homes were too strict, while others thought there were not enough precautions in place.
The Ombudsman is currently investigating the actions of Extendicare Parkside in Regina, which was the site of devastating COVID-19 outbreak in December, along with the oversight provided by the Ministry of Health and the SHA. McFadyen said her office has received more than 20,000 documents relating to the care home and has conducted around 60 interviews so far. That report will be released later this year.
The Ombudsman said complaints about the Ministry of Corrections and Policing increase from 579 in 2019 to 619 in 2020. Approximately 100 of these complaints were related to COVID-19.
The greatest number of complaints were about the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, which accounted for about one third of total complaints with 220. The Regina Correctional Centre followed with 189 complaints.
According to the Ombudsman, about one third of the complaints came during the three weeks after the provincial state of emergency. The initial complaints were about whether proper safety protocols were being implemented and followed and whether inmates were being properly informed about what was happening.
From mid-April to mid-November, the Ombudsman’s office saw 35 complaints over the course of seven months. They received 30 complaints in the last six weeks of 2020 – after COVID-19 outbreaks were declared in multiple correctional centres in November and December.
The Ombudsman said many complaints were related to whether inmate were being properly protected from COVID-19 and some complained safety measures were limiting access to exercise and programming.