New York City Councilwoman Wants Patient Advocate Office – Wall Street Journal

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera said the city’s health system ‘presents challenges for those who consider themselves very well-seasoned veterans of bureaucracy.’ Above, St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. Photo: Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

A bill set to be introduced Wednesday in the New York City Council seeks to create a new office to receive and report on complaints against health-care facilities and providers.

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, chairwoman of the council’s Committee on Hospitals, is seeking to create an office of the patient advocate housed within the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The office would help people regarding medical services and coverage, including concerns or inquiries relating to providers, facilities and health insurance.

Similar patient-advocate offices already exist in California and Connecticut.

Ms. Rivera, a Manhattan Democrat, said that people need a centralized place to report problems, and communities need a watchdog to identify trends and gaps in services across the city. When there are hospital closures or a new facility is to be sited, she said, the current process doesn’t allow for enough community involvement.

“Right now, navigating our city’s incredibly complex health system presents challenges for those who consider themselves very well-seasoned veterans of bureaucracy,” said Ms. Rivera. “This office is unique in that it is looking at probably the most complicated system, not just in our state but in our country.”

Ms. Rivera said she would seek funding for the office during the 2020 budget negotiations.

Some systems already exist to field complaints regarding health care. Consumers can report issues involving hospitals, primary-care clinics and some types of medical centers through the New York State Department of Health.

A spokeswoman for the department said the agency takes complaints about the care provided at hospitals and clinics very seriously. “A team of clinical staff reviews each individual case, and investigations are conducted for complaints that involve allegations of substandard care or potential regulatory violations,” she said. Last year, more than 2,500 complaints were received regarding hospitals and other treatment centers.

Complaints about psychiatric care, however, are reported to the state’s Office of Mental Health, while complaints about detoxification programs must be directed to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. The state’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct investigates complaints about physicians. Complaints about dentists are handled by the New York State Education Department’s Office of the Professions. The state’s Department of Financial Services investigates complaints of inappropriate denials of insurance coverage.

Health-care systems, too, often have a patient representative who receives complaints about care.

What is needed, said Lois Uttley of Community Catalyst, a consumer health-advocacy organization, is a 3-1-1 for people navigating the health system that can also track and analyze trends in patient complaints, something that is not happening at all, she said.

A big-picture look at patient complaints, she said, “would then enable the patient advocate to influence health system change.”

Write to Melanie Grayce West at melanie.west@wsj.com

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