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Patient Ombudsman
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Complaints about lost or damaged personal property

In 2018, Patient Ombudsman reported on an investigation into a complaint about an elderly patient whose dentures were lost while they were a patient in a public hospital.

Illustration of a pair of glasses in silhouette

In 2018, Patient Ombudsman reported on an investigation into a complaint about an elderly patient whose dentures were lost while they were a patient in a public hospital.

The hospital’s policy was that patients and their families were solely responsible for keeping patients’ property safe. Patients were encouraged to send their personal property home, and no distinction was made for property, like dentures or hearing aids, that are necessary for a patient’s health and well-being while in hospital. Patient Ombudsman made several recommendations based on the investigation, including:

Recognize not all personal property is the same. For their health and well-being, patients need to keep items like dentures, glasses and hearing aids while in hospital.

Provide patients with information, when feasible, about steps that they can take to reduce the risk of loss (e.g., labelling).

Ensure appropriate monitoring and documentation of personal property for patients who need help, including procedures for times when the risk of loss is highest (e.g., removal of food trays)

Establish criteria for reimbursement for lost property when appropriate.

Include a protocol to ensure clear, timely communication and coordination about lost property when there are multiple providers.

Patient Ombudsman received 46 complaints in 2021/22 about lost or damaged personal property, 41 involving hospitals and five involving long-term care homes.

Fourteen complaints involved lost dentures, eyeglasses, hearing aids or other personal assistive devices. The remainder were about lost jewelry, clothing, purses, wallets and other personal property.

The reviews of these complaints suggest that some health sector organizations have amended their policies, and now recognize the difference between personal property that patients need to see, hear, talk and eat while in hospital versus other valuables, and have protocols to guide decisions about reimbursement. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in new challenges with respect to patients’ personal property. Visitation restrictions has meant that family members could not always collect patients’ valuables to take them home. Patients and caregivers reported more frequent moves within and between facilities, increasing the opportunities for property to be lost, and patients were more reliant on their personal electronic devices to help them communicate with loved ones or provide entertainment to pass the time.

Our recommendations

The most recent complaints suggest the recommendations from the 2018 investigation are still valid.

The new complaints in 2021/22 reinforce the importance of hospitals and long-term care homes having policies and procedures for documenting, monitoring and safeguarding patients’ property and valuables, particularly at points of transfer between rooms and facilities. Patient Ombudsman also suggests that hospitals and long-term care homes should consider developing safe practices to allow family to collect property and valuables that patients don’t need during their admission. Patient Ombudsman will continue to monitor these concerns and will determine if further measures need to be taken.