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Weekly Speaker Program

March 5, 2018: Marianne Ryan, Provincial Ombudsman and retired Assistant Commissioner of the RCMP K Division.     website

  • Tazim Asaria, Marianne Ryan, Ben Kormos, Terry Felton, and Ron Brookes Tazim Asaria, Marianne Ryan, Ben Kormos, Terry Felton, and Ron Brookes

Tazim Asaria introduced our guest speaker, Marianne Ryan, Provincial Ombudsman and retired Assistant Commissioner of the RCMP K Division. Marianne gave us a bit more background on her career path. She spent 35 years in law enforcement with the RCMP, working in Manitoba, Alberta, and BC. She has had experience in the Criminal Ops Division, Human Resources and Regional Change Management. She touts the praises of the men and women serving in the RCMP for the wonderful, heroic things they do daily. Those are the things we should be hearing more about in the news.

Retiring from the RCMP in March, 2017, she transitioned into the office of Provincial Ombudsman and Public Interest Commissioner by July, 2017. She has been asked why Ombudsman and not Ombudswoman? The word ombudsman is Swedish and means representative of the people. It is known internationally as Ombudsman, so she isn't about to change it.

This position is about public service; working with the people within the confines of the legislation. Alberta holds the oldest office of the Ombudsman in North America with 50 years of service. There are seven independent offices under her jurisdiction, such as the Auditor General, Privacy Commissioner and Youth and Child Advocate.

The Ombudsman does not report to the prime minister or any other minister, to maintain impartiality. It is all about fairness with respect to decisions that have been made. The Ombudsman is the last resort and all complaints must go through an exhaustive process first before coming to that office. There are do's and don'ts to what the office will and won't investigate. Recently added to the list of do's is provincial complaints: this will add a predicted 30% workload to her office and mainly focus on small towns.

Complaints are made to her office in writing and an initial interview is conducted. The mandate of the office includes early resolution within the first few days or weeks. A formal investigation is launched, if it is warranted, and the case is completed working within the confines of eight guidelines. They are looking to correct systemic problems and can order the minister to fix the problem. Often the minister agrees with the findings and will gladly fix the problem rather than risk public disclosure.

Marianne shared an interesting case involving a 3 ½ year old child. The child received her first cochlear implant at the age of four, but was turned down for the second implant. This was affecting her speech, socialization and learning ability, so the family had the operation done in Texas. The desired results were achieved with marked improvement in the child's life.

Eight months later, the Alberta government announced coverage for the second implant in all children under 10 years of age. As predicted, the family filed a claim for reimbursement. But both the claim and the appeal were turned down by the Out of Country Health Services Committee (OCHSC), ruling the service was elective. The family went to the Ombudsman, saying they were never told by their doctor to approach OCHSC first. There was some urgency in having the surgery done as quickly as possible.

After investigation, the Ombudsman ruled it was, in fact, a medically insured service and recommended the panel rehear the appeal. The panel decision was to grant the appeal. The family is forever grateful that they had been listened to, that their child had the medical care required and the funding was now in place.

The office handles about 200 cases a year after the first incoming call. Many are referred to other agencies. They expect the volume to increase with taking on the provincial jurisdiction. Alberta is one of the last provinces to incorporate the municipalities and towns. The most common cases come from Correctional Services, Maintenance Enforcement Program, AISH, Alberta Works, Appeals Secretariat, Worker's Compensation and the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

In answering questions from the floor, success is measured by determining if the decision made was fair and the recommendations were implemented. The list of eight guidelines in making their decision is rather boring, but, essentially, they are looking to see the decision was fully supported, not just denied, the proper legislation is quoted, and that the decision is fair.

David Watson shared his personal story after hip surgery in the UK, which had a happy outcome after taking his case to the Ombudsman.

Terry Felton thanked Marianne for being a public servant who has spent her whole career aptly serving the public. He then presented her with our Boltman.

  • Marianne Ryan, Terry Felton, and Ben Kormos Marianne Ryan, Terry Felton, and Ben Kormos

reported by Judy Cochran

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