Year 2 Highlights 2017/18

Dealing with lost personal property fairly

A woman lies in a hospital bed with her glasses lying on a table in front of her


An elderly patient was asked to remove her partial denture in hospital just before being transferred to another facility.

She recalled seeing a nurse place the dentures in a plastic container. Shortly after her admission to the second hospital, she was transferred from one room to another. Once she was settled, she realized her dentures were missing and neither hospital was able to locate them.

What we did

Patient Ombudsman connected the patient to the Patient Relations departments at both hospitals to attempt to reach a resolution. Neither hospital had detailed documentation that provided clarity about when and where the loss occurred. Ultimately, the second hospital agreed to reimburse the patient for 80% of the cost to replace the partial denture.

Loss of personal property in hospitals is not an uncommon problem. To prevent loss, hospitals generally recommend that patients send valuables home with a family member or friend. But what if patients need personal property or assistive devices while in hospital for their health and well-being? Patients need items like glasses, hearing aids and dentures to eat, communicate and participate in their care, as well as to maintain their dignity. While many patients are capable of taking reasonable steps to safeguard their personal property while in hospital, patients who are very ill or have cognitive problems may need help from their care providers.

In 2017/18, Patient Ombudsman received 30 complaints from patients or their caregivers seeking compensation to replace personal property that was lost or damaged while in a hospital or long-term care home. Half of these involved lost or damaged dentures. It is likely that this represents only a small number of the total incidents involving lost or damaged of personal property.

Considerable attention has been given to this issue in the United Kingdom (UK), where the National Health Service (NHS) has some responsibility for the replacement costs. A 2017 study found that the reimbursement costs for lost dentures totaled over £357,000 (approximately $620,000 in Canadian dollars) over a five-year period between 2011 and 2016.

Most of the hospital policies that Patient Ombudsman examined take the position that they are not liable for the loss of patients’ property in hospital and recommend that patients send their personal property home with a family member or friend. Many of the policies make no distinction between valuables like jewelry or electronics and items patients need to eat nutritious food, communicate with care providers and maintain their dignity while in hospital. In spite of their policies, many hospitals agreed to provide at least partial reimbursement for the lost personal property when there was evidence that the actions or inactions of hospital staff contributed to the loss or on compassionate grounds.

When early resolution efforts by Patient Ombudsman were unsuccessful in achieving a fair result to one complaint about lost personal property, Patient Ombudsman undertook an investigation. You can read a summary of the investigation here.

Recommendations for hospitals

Based on the findings of the investigation and other similar complaints, Patient Ombudsman recommends that hospitals review their policies and procedures to:

  • 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., when food trays are retrieved)
  • 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.

Tips for patients and caregivers

  • Label your personal property whenever possible. That way, if your lost property is found it can be returned to you
  • Check with your denturist about the options available for labeling dentures
  • Bring an appropriate storage container with you to the hospital and ensure that it can be accessed easily
  • If you are a caregiver for a patient or resident that is confused and at risk for losing personal property, discuss the risk with your loved one’s care providers and the actions that can be taken to minimize the risk
  • If you notice that personal property is missing, report it immediately and ask about what can be done to locate the item