The hefty salaries of top executives at Ontario’s air ambulance service — including its boss — are being kept secret from the public.
Although the provincial air ambulance program receives $150 million in tax funding a year, at least five of its top executives are shielded from the “sunshine list” the province publishes annually to help make government accountable.
Dr. Chris Mazza, the president and chief executive officer of ORNGE, and at least four top executives including Rick Potter, chief operating officer aviation, do not disclose their salaries. Mazza used to disclose his until 2007, then stopped. That year, Mazza earned $298,000.
It’s not known what Mazza and his executives earn now but other salaries, those that are disclosed, have grown in leaps and bounds. One salary was bumped up $100,000 in just one year. The highest disclosed salary last year was $282,000.
A Starinvestigation has found that some of the top salaries are shielded because the government-funded, non-profit air ambulance agency has created a series of for-profit consulting companies.
One for-profit company, ORNGE PEEL, pays the executives as consultants, and ORNGE officials say this excludes them from having to disclose to the public how much they earn. Other for-profit companies created by ORNGE include ORNGE Global Air and ORNGE Global Real Estate.
Health Minister Deb Matthews, whose ministry funds ORNGE, said she has asked ministry staff to explain to her why the salaries of Mazza and other executives are a secret.
“It’s not clear to me. I can’t say that I have seen this arrangement before,” Matthews said. “I need some help understanding why some executives are not on the sunshine list.”
ORNGE spokesman James Macdonald, speaking on behalf of Mazza and all executives, told the Star that ORNGE “is in full compliance with all applicable laws with respect to salary disclosure.”
He said ORNGE is disclosing salaries of all “operations and front-line staff.”
Mazza could not be reached for an interview.
The health minister said ORNGE has a “very complicated structure” and she needs help understanding why top salaries in a publicly funded organization are secret.
ORNGE was set up by Ontario in 2005 to fly sick and injured patients to hospital, often from remote areas. Its name is purposely misspelled, chosen because air ambulance planes and helicopters are typically painted orange. You can see its new office building on the south side of Highway 401 near Pearson Airport.
The Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act makes Ontario’s public sector more open and accountable to taxpayers, its annual public release states. The act requires organizations that receive public funding from the Province of Ontario to disclose annually the names, positions, salaries and total taxable benefits of employees paid $100,000 or more in a calendar year.
Even with some names off the list, ORNGE has an impressive number making more than $100,000 (119 people, a mix of managers, a few executives and paramedics). One top executive on the list is Tom Lepine, chief operating officer. His salary was $282,000 in 2010.
Missing from the list (in addition to president Mazza and aviation chief of operations Potter) are:
• Maria Renzella, executive vice-president of corporate services;
Rhoda Beecher, vice-president organizational development,
• Catherine Rosebrugh, listed as vice-president regulatory affairs in 2010 annual report but not on sunshine list.
According to provincial documents, ORNGE is a government organization, funded by taxpayers and is audited by the provincial auditor. In a recent report called the Public Accounts of Ontario, ORNGE is listed with numerous government organizations such as the Ontario Power Authority, Ontario Place, and the Ontario Realty Corp. Salaries over $100,000 a year at those agencies, including their top executives, are all disclosed on the sunshine list.
ORNGE is a rapidly growing agency.
In the 1990s, Ontario’s air ambulance service was run by the ministry of health, with planes and helicopters operated by private companies. The creation of ORNGE seven years ago is moving Ontario toward a day when all air ambulance service will be done by ORNGE, which now owns some planes and helicopters but still relies on small private airlines for work in many remote areas.
In ORNGE’s most recent annual report, the role of president and CEO Mazza is described: “Under his leadership Ontario’s aero medical transport program has been transformed from a disparate series of air ambulance programs into an organization with a clear mission, vision, and values.”
Macdonald, the ORNGE spokesman, said the non-profit company has several for-profit divisions in an attempt to generate revenue beyond what the province pays. ORNGE’s most recent financial statements show that almost all of its revenue comes from the province.
Macdonald said they are now being “formal and aggressive” in an attempt to “leverage ORNGE’s brand reputation.”
ORNGE is exploring numerous options, using the publicly funded air ambulance system as a base. One plan is to perform private insurance-paid medical repatriations from the Caribbean and elsewhere. Another is to offer consulting services to other countries. Macdonald said no taxpayer money is used to fund these start-up operations.
“Due to confidentiality issues, we cannot comment on salaries of individuals employed by these entities, which are legally separate from ORNGE,” Macdonald said.
Update:December 15, 2011 Ontario auditor to dig deeper into air ambulance executive salaries