Ornge is the air ambulance service for the province of Ontario and is an integral component of the larger emergency health system in communities across Ontario. ORNGE is responsible for airlifting injured or sick people around the province.
Recently, amid charges of financial mismanagement and poor safety standards, the two most senior executives at Ornge Global, which is responsible for Ontario’s air ambulance service, have been fired.
Dismissed without severance and pay, along with 18 others, CEO Chris Mazza and COO Maria Renzella are at the center of a scandal involving the misuse of taxpayers’ money.
The firings are “vitally important and necessary steps needed to restore confidence and leadership for Ontario’s air ambulance service,” said Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews in a recent statement.
Aside from a tarnished image, Ornge, the non-profit air ambulance service, is largely unaffected by the developments – but the for-profit Ornge Global is now virtually finished.
Ornge Global is accused of profiting from taxpayer dollars meant for the air ambulance service. Ornge Global is well known for its lavish headquarters, nicknamed the “Crystal Palace” and steep executive salaries. The concern is that some of the $140-million yearly payout from the province has been diverted to Ornge Global.
Currently, a team of 32 forensic auditors are pouring over the company’s records to determine whether taxpayers’ money was used for private gain.
Recently, it has been discovered that Dr. Mazza received $1.4-million per year in compensation. A figure Matthews quotes as “outrageous, shocking and unacceptable.” Despite receiving public funding, the company had successfully shielded the salaries of Dr. Mazza and other top executives from public disclosure laws, until now.
“Some real concerns have been raised, not only in terms of issues related to operational matters, but also with respect to use of public dollars,” said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty last month.
Along with shedding up to 20 positions at Ornge Global, Matthews said the new board and an interim CEO, Ron McKerlie will make further changes, particularly in the areas of patient care and safety.
In addition to financial problems, the air ambulance service has also been repeatedly accused by pilots and paramedics of shirking safety, with low staffing levels and cramped helicopter interiors. The Ontario Health Ministry is currently investigating a claim that two deaths have been associated with the improper interior.
Ornge is also accused of cutting costs by delaying response times, potentially threatening lives in the process.