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Sense and Insensitivity

Ministry of Health and Long-term Care (Northern Health Travel Grant)

Date: 2009

The parents of a disabled 17-year-old Sault Ste. Marie boy – two senior citizens with a limited income – applied for a Northern Health Travel Grant on their son’s behalf, for reimbursement of $1,150 in expenses incurred in travelling to Toronto so he could have surgery. Their application was rejected twice because it was not signed by the youth – despite a letter from the family’s doctor explaining that the boy’s physical and mental disabilities made it impossible for him to sign. Staff at the program told the mother she would have to get a power of attorney to sign the application for her son, so she retained a lawyer to do so.

The Ombudsman’s Office learned of the case through a media report and contacted the family and their lawyer to assist them. Staff at the Northern Health Travel Grant program responded that the letter from the doctor was in fact sufficient and the youth’s application would be granted without need for a power of attorney.

When Ombudsman staff raised concerns about how the mother had been treated, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care agreed to send her a letter of apology and to reimburse her for $462 in legal costs. The Ministry also agreed to improve its general instructions for travel grant applicants, and to introduce a policy for dealing with those who are unable to sign their forms.