11/18/2013 01:51 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Alberta Health Advocate To Help People Navigate Health Care

EDMONTON - A public advocate to help Alberta patients and families navigate the health system is to be on the job Jan. 1.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford announced Monday there will also be an advocate to help families and seniors looking for assistance starting April 1.

The premier says the two positions are part of the new Alberta Health Act, which was passed in 2010 and comes into effect at the start of next year.

They will join the current mental-health patient advocate.

"All Albertans can count on a home in the health-care system," said Redford at a downtown Edmonton rehabilitation hospital.

The act includes the provision for a charter to enshrine Alberta's commitment to publicly funded health care under the Canada Health Act.

It will not include a wait-time guarantee for medical procedures.

"The charter will outline the foundations of Alberta's system of care so that Albertans can understand exactly what they can expect from their health-care system," said Redford.

All three advocates are to work out of the same office with a total budget of $2 million and will report to Health Minister Fred Horne.

"I expect a lot of their work will be helping with what we call way-finding, pointing people to the right place to get the information they need or to get a question answered," said Horne.

The health advocate will also be responsible for resolving complaints and, if necessary, ask for investigations.

The seniors advocate will be able to ask for reviews into care at seniors facilities.

Alberta's Opposition Wildrose party has been pushing a private member's bill to create a seniors advocate, but one that would be independent of government.

"We have seen seniors suffer from closures of long-term care beds, a divorce-by-nursing-home policy and lower standards of care. Now they are failing to institute a seniors advocate office that can do its job free from political interference,” said Wildrose critic Kerry Towle in a news release.

“Seniors have made it clear that they want action and an independent voice at the table.”

NDP Leader Brian Mason said an advocate is a poor solution to systemic problems.

"The basic problems are making sure that when people walk through the door, there is someone there that can guide them," said Mason.

"Having one small office helping people navigate the system is not going to help more than a handful of people. I believe that it's window dressing."

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said the act reflects a government that prefers paper victories rather than front-line accomplishments.

"We don't need a charter. We just need meaningful action on access to care," said Sherman, who is also an emergency room doctor.

"Albertans are waiting longer than ever for care."

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