Contacts to the Iowa Office of Ombudsman in 2018 reached their highest number in 17 years, according to an annual report released today. Letters and calls from inmates in Iowa’s county jails and their families increased most dramatically – the office fielded 68 percent more jail complaints last year than in 2016. Managed Medicaid complaints held steady after a massive influx in calls from patients and providers in 2017. In sum, complaints, information requests, and special projects in 2018 totaled 5,178. This is more than a 5 percent increase from 2017 and a 29 percent increase since 2013.
The Ombudsman is a good-government office that accepts complaints from citizens who believe a state or local government agency has acted unfairly, unreasonably, inefficiently, or contrary to law, rule, or policy. The Ombudsman has the authority to investigate complaints, but more often tries to resolve disagreements or misunderstandings informally and cooperatively. The office’s 12 assistants are impartial and objective in their reviews of complaints.
Despite the office’s statutory authority, Ombudsman Kristie Hirschman reported continued resistance by some government agencies to accountability and transparency. Agencies have been raising common-law privileges with increased regularity to avoid fully cooperating with the Ombudsman’s investigations, according to the report. That has led to delays in the investigation process and can prevent the office from fully evaluating the correctness of the agencies’ actions, adding to citizens’ frustrations and their faith in government decisions.
"When we identify problems and propose resolutions, we are protecting agencies from liability and public criticism," Hirschman wrote in the annual report. "The Ombudsman should be viewed by government agencies as their risk manager."
Hirschman pledged to continue to push agencies to address shortcomings identified by her office: "If we believe strongly that a wrong needs to be righted, we will not forget, and we will not go away."
The annual report also features a sampling of 17 cases its staff investigated in 2018. The report and past investigative reports can be found online at www.legis.iowa.gov/Ombudsman.
Source: Ombudsman of the State of Iowa, USA.