ORNGE Hires New Spin Doctor

Update: see previous posts – December 26, 2011 Doctor’s Salary Quadruples In Four (4) Years to $1.4 Million, December 20, 2011 Wanted: Paramedics for Emergency Flights on ORNGE’s Air Ambulance Helicopters, December 6, 2011 Orangeh Gonna Tell The Taxpayers How Much of Their Money You’ve Spent on Yourself?

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Ornge began in 1977 when the Province of Ontario established a helicopter-based aero-medical program at Toronto’s Buttonville Airport associated with Sunnybrook Hospital and now they are spending $150,000,000.00 ($150 Million Dollars) of Ontario taxpayer's money and paying their executives very handsomely - Dr. Chris Mazza received 1.4 million a year.

Kevin Donovan, a staff reporter with the Toronto Star did a great job of investigating what this company was doing with public funds.

Ontario’s ORNGE air ambulance service is conducting a “vigorous” internal review and has admitted that secrecy around its business model and the whopping salary of its boss was a mistake.

“Simply put, your leadership team could have and should have done a much better job of communicating to everyone,” interim leader Tom Lepine said in an email to ORNGE’s 400 employees. “We will significantly improve transparency and accountability,” he added.

The Star reported last week that ORNGE’s founder and president, Dr. Chris Mazza, earned $1.4 million a year, making him the highest paid executive at a publicly funded organization in Ontario. ORNGE receives $150 million a year from Ontario taxpayers.

An ongoing Star investigation initially revealed that numerous high salaries were kept secret and also explored serious problems including call delays, lack of service in some areas and the existence of a web of for-profit companies (ORNGE was set up to be non-profit) that aimed to “leverage” the assets and good will of the Ontario air service. The Star also detailed a deal that saw the for-profit ORNGE, with Mazza as controlling shareholder, receive $6.7 million back from the Italian company that sold it helicopters.

Mazza has stepped down and taken an indefinite medical leave. Lepine is the interim president of the non-profit ORNGE and Maria Renzella is the interim president of the for-profit ORNGE Global (her salary and others have not yet been disclosed). Previously, Mazza was boss of both.

Lepine, a former paramedic, is one of the few top executives whose salary was always public. The salary of Lepine, earning $282,000 as of last year, has never been shielded because he was considered the operational leader of the ORNGE non-profit. Mazza was president and ORNGE said that type of salary did not need to be disclosed.

On October 8, 2004, Ornge was incorporated under the name “Ontario Air Ambulance Services Co.” (“OAASC”) in the Canada Corporations Act. In July 2005 the government of Ontario announced the appointment of OAASC to coordinate all aspects Ontario's air ambulance services and Dr. Christopher Mazza was appointed as the founding Chief Executive Officer. The organization changed its name to Ornge in 2006. Ornge is not an acronym. Instead the unique name was adopted to reflect the well-recognized colour of Ornge’s distinctive vehicles. In June 2007, the Province of Ontario proclaimed the Health Systems Improvement Act (“Bill 171”), which enabled the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care to designate Ornge for the purpose of providing or ensuring the provision of land ambulance services under regulation 497/07 of the Ambulance Act. In response to Bill 171, Ornge designed and created a highly integrated and controlled land and air inter-facility transport system and became one of the only Canadian transport medicine providers to earn accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems in all three modes of transport – helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and land ambulances.

The stories in the Star brought the wrath of the provincial health ministry down on ORNGE, followed last Friday by forensic auditors with the provincial finance ministry.

Lepine mentioned those auditors in his memo to staff, saying “we welcome their arrival. We’ve dedicated a team to work with the audit team to ensure they get everything they need to do their work.”

At stake for ORNGE are the provincial millions that are their only meaningful source of income. If the government turns off the tap, ORNGE would be left with a series of shell companies that are for now more plan than performance. One scheme is to provide a sort of high-end insurance to executives who get sick in foreign countries. As far as the Star can tell, nothing has come of that scheme yet.

The email from Lepine on Friday was in stark contrast to previous emails and town hall addresses that went out to staff from the Crystal Palace, the Toronto airport-area headquarters employees have criticized for being too luxurious at a time when ORNGE struggles to pay qualified paramedics to staff helicopters and airplanes.

Just a day or so before Friday, angry emails went out from executives to staff. ORNGE executives were furious that the Star was investigating and staff were hauled to Town Hall meetings and warned to keep their mouths shut. Don’t talk to the Star — don’t talk to any outsiders, they were told.

In Lepine’s email, he said they now recognized that “many of you, valued members of the ORNGE family, have been upset and concerned by the media stories about our structure and the transparency with which we operate, especially as it relates to compensation.”

In his email, Lepine said he and his leadership team will be “relentlessly” focusing on three priorities. He said they will maintain a strong focus on patient care; improve transparency and accountability; and in a reference to the Star’s stories that showed crucial delays in dispatching an air ambulance, Lepine said they will look into those issues.

“The executive team is fully dedicated to deliver on these three priorities and to find improvements and solutions reflected in whatever recommendations are made in due process,” Lepine said. He asked staff to work collaboratively with executives and he expressed “heartfelt thanks for your ongoing dedication and commitment to Ontario’s transport medicine system and those we serve.”

In an email to the Star with a different tone, an ORNGE public relations official warned that the Star was in breach of provincial privacy law by writing a story about a 44-minute delay in dispatching an air ambulance helicopter last August.

The Star story, which quoted the mother of the young woman who died, referenced the time it took for the helicopter to be dispatched and noted multiple delays by ORNGE and incorrect information given to the municipal ambulance service in York Region. ORNGE told York no helicopter was available, though it was. The only personal health information was information the young woman’s mother provided the newspaper.

In a stern email, ORNGE’s chief privacy officer Andrew Lemon warned the Star not to publish any information related to other calls.

Interim boss’ message

Text of the message sent to staff Dec 23 from Ornge interim boss Tom Lepine:

We know that over the past few weeks, many of you, valued members of the Ornge family, have been upset and concerned by the media stories about our structure and the transparency with which we operate; especially as it relates to compensation.

Simply put, your leadership team could have and should have done a much better job of communicating to everyone.

As we move forward to serve the people of Ontario — our patients and their families — the interim leadership team will focus relentlessly on three priorities.

First, and foremost, we will stay absolutely focused on that for which we are relied upon every single day: caring for patients. It is why we’re here and what we do. You have our full commitment that this will be our overarching priority.

Second, we will significantly improve transparency and accountability.

This begins today, as auditors from the Ministry of Finance begin their work at our office. We welcome their arrival. We’ve dedicated a team to work with the audit team to ensure they get everything they need to do their work.

And third, while Ontario’s Privacy Laws don’t allow us to comment further on recently raised issues, we commit to a vigorous review of current practices and process and improved communications regarding outcomes.

This review, together with the transparency improvements to which we are committed, will be central to our efforts in the new year to re-engage with you, our colleagues, as well as with all of our stakeholders.

This will not be an easy undertaking but we can assure all of you that the Executive Team is fully dedicated to deliver on these three priorities and to find improvements and solutions reflected in whatever recommendations are made in due process. We ask staff to work collaboratively with us as we move forward in tackling the challenges ahead. Our hope and desire is that each of you will join us in improving communications throughout the organization.

In conclusion, please accept our genuine and heartfelt thanks for your ongoing dedication and commitment to Ontario’s transport medicine system and those we serve especially during these challenging times.

We wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday season.

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