Update: see previous posts – February 3, 2013 ORNGE: Mount Sinai Orders Review of Hospital’s ‘Agreement’ with Chris Mazza After Toronto Star Exposes Agreement, January 19, 2013 ORNGE: Highest Paid Ontario Civil Servant (1.4 Million Annually) Chris Mazza, Lived Lavish Lifestyle, December 28, 2012 ORNGE: ORNGE Sets Up Policy to Protect Whistleblowers in Wake of Scandal, December 20, 2012 ORNGE: New Leader of ORNGE Will Only Receive Half the Compensation of the Former Leader and Founder Dr. Chris Mazza, November 9, 2012 ORNGE: Chris Mazza Wanted Out, but Board Didn’t Want Him to Go, August 3, 2012 ORNGE: Government Probe of ORNGE Ends For Summer Break & other posts
Ontario’s cash-strapped health-care system paid for two of Dr. Chris Mazza’s ski trips at an estimated cost to tax payers of $15,000.
Ontario’s cash-strapped health-care system paid for two of Dr. Chris Mazza’s ski trips.
In a three-week period during the winter of 2010, the ORNGE founder visited two top western ski resorts at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $15,000, including airfare, hotel, lift tickets, registration at medical courses and a $700-a-day “stipend.”
One trip was to Whistler, B.C., just before the Winter Olympics. Just over a week later, he travelled to Big Sky, Mont. These back-to-back trips were to attend “continuing medical education” conferences and ORNGE executives junior to him approved his attendance. In the case of the Whistler conference, Mazza arrived at the mountain five days before the conference began and left after one day of the five-day course.
Mazza would not be interviewed for this story. His lawyer, Roger Yachetti, said: “Dr. Mazza has concluded that he will no longer answer any of your questions, as it is apparent to him that The Star is only interested in defaming him.”
Clues to Mazza’s whereabouts during January and February, 2010, can be found in his expense records, which were recently made public by the province.
The clues begin with a 2008 contract he signed with ORNGE to be one of its “medical directors.” Current managers of ORNGE have explained to the Star that as part of its delivery of air ambulance services, a doctor is present in the ORNGE operations room or on call at home to answer questions from paramedics. ORNGE says the doctors who perform these part-time shifts are paid about $80,000 a year by ORNGE.
Mazza was one of these doctors. Records show he was paid between $300,000 and $410,000 a year as a medical director. It appears this payment was part of his $1.4 million salary. The contract was signed by Mazza and former ORNGE chairman Rainer Beltzner. At his testimony last year, Beltzner said that in the dying days of Mazza’s reign as president it came to his attention Mazza was not providing the services he was paid to provide.
Though Mazza was acting as a medical director as far back as 2005, when ORNGE was created, only his 2008 contract has been released.
One clause required Mazza to take two “continuing medical education” courses annually. All other medical directors were asked to take one course and their total annual reimbursement was $1,300, an ORNGE official said. These courses are often done locally and provide instruction on the latest trends in emergency medicine.
Each course referenced in Mazza’s contract was to have eight hours of instruction. It stipulated that he was to have all of his travel and course expenses paid. In addition to his salary, Mazza was to receive $700 a day for attending the courses, with a cap of $2,700 per course. Mazza’s contract was more generous than other directors, an ORNGE insider said.
As the Star has gone through the expense documents, it is clear that they are incomplete. The ORNGE insider familiar with Mazza’s expenses for these courses said the ORNGE accounting department had a difficult time obtaining backup documents.
However, in one year, 2010, there are two entries for western conferences.
It began in late 2009 with a November request by Mazza to ORNGE to attend the Wilderness Medicine Conference in Big Sky, Mont., in February 2010. Big Sky boasts three mountains, challenging terrain and spectacular scenery.
“I have attached the brochure for a conference I would like to attend using CME funds. Please indicate if this program meets the criteria for CME?”
The records show his request was approved by Bruce Sawadsky, ORNGE’s senior medical director, and Jo-Anne Oake-Vecchiato, vice-president of clinical affairs.
One month later, and before the Big Sky conference, Mazza sent a second request to Sawadsky and Oake-Vecchiato. This one was a request to attend the “23rd Annual Update in Emergency Medicine” in Whistler, B.C., in January 2010. He sent the request a week before leaving for Whistler.
This second conference was approved by Oake-Vecchiato.
Mazza loves to ski, former colleagues say. In both cases, the conference brochures described an opportunity to both work and play, with short morning sessions followed by free time to ski in the afternoon. The conference offered an après-ski social, with evening seminars as well.
Whistler was first. In January 2010, Whistler, one of North America’s top ski destinations, was preparing to host the world for the Winter Olympics in early February.
Mazza’s records show the emergency medicine conference he signed up for ran from Sunday, Jan. 24 to Wednesday, Jan. 27. Registration was the Saturday night.
The ORNGE founder flew out of Toronto on Wednesday, Jan. 20, several days before the conference was to start. He set his out-of-office email alert to say he would return to his ORNGE office on Tuesday, Jan. 26, before the conference ended.
Expense records show his five nights at the luxurious Fairmont Chateau Whistler cost $2,900 (the recommended conference hotel, the Hilton, was close to half the price). The conference cost was $980. The airfare appears to have been $1,400, though the expense records are incomplete. In addition, Mazza expensed in-room dining, movies, and meals at Sushi Village, Earls and Ric’s Grille in the Whistler Village.
The registration for the conference was Saturday evening, three days after he arrived. Sunday morning the sessions ran until 10:30 a.m., and included a talk on temporary loss of consciousness in children and drug-resistant antibiotics. Then it was free time until evening sessions.
Bright and early Monday morning, with the bulk of the conference remaining, Mazza ordered a car from Alpine 4x 4 Charter Ltd. ($367 for the trip) to pick him up at the Fairmont, take him via the coastal highway to Vancouver and the airport to fly home. To get to Whistler, he had taken a $50 Pacific Coach ride. According to the course brochure, Mazza’s early departure meant he missed workshops on burn trauma and treating fevers in children.
Mazza returned to Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 26. Two weeks later, on Feb. 6, he got back on a plane and flew to Bozeman, Mont., via Denver, for the Wilderness Medicine Conference, which provided training for delivering medical care in remote areas. His expense records included hotel accommodation, the conference fee, airfare, meals and his lift tickets ($180 for three days). He also submitted an additional expense ($60) for a course in “avalanche recognition and route finding.” The course brochure shows that all morning sessions ended before 11 a.m., providing attendees time to ski. Evening sessions were also provided.
The expense records for the trip show a cost of about $4,000, reimbursed by ORNGE.
The Star has been unable, at this time, to reach conference organizers from the 2010 events to determine details of Mazza’s attendance.
Together, the two conferences tallied about $10,000. His contract entitled him to be paid an additional $700 per day, but with the records released it is not possible to see if he was paid that amount. If he was, assuming the 10 days he was away in total meant he billed to his maximum cap, that would add $5,400, bringing the total to $15,400.
On the last day in Big Sky, Feb. 10, 2010, Mazza boarded a plane and flew over the Rocky Mountains, landing in Calgary. Expense records reveal that he later reimbursed ORNGE $200 for this trip as a personal expense. In Calgary, Mazza rented a vehicle for seven days at a cost of $747 (this was filed as an expense). The records do not state where he went. He returned to Toronto on an Air Canada flight on Feb. 17. ORNGE officials told the Star they do not know what their former boss did for those seven days.
ORNGE officials stated Sunday that all of Mazza’s records, including records for these conferences, were turned over to the forensic team of auditors whose work was then passed on to the OPP. ORNGE also stated that the maximum annual amount of $1,300 for continuing medical education must be used for “continuing medical education for the field of air ambulance services.”