Update: see previous posts – January 26, 2012 ORNGE – ORNGE Foundation Charity Shut-Down and Closed, January 26, 2012 ORNGE – Has Appointed a New Board of Directors, January 24, 2012 ORNGE – 18 Middle-Management & Charity Program Cut, January 22, 2012 ORNGE architect George Smitherman brokered meeting between Korean officials and ORNGE, January 16, 2012 ORNGE – “The Jig is Up”, December 29, 2011 There Are Some Red Faces at ORNGE, December 27, 2011 ORNGE Hires New Spin Doctor, 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 ?
ORNGE’s top doctor has checked out the medical interior of the air ambulance’s multi-million-dollar helicopters and found a disaster waiting to happen.
Dr. Bruce Sawadsky, in a report written Monday, calls the cramped interior of the brand new AW 139 helicopter a “high risk environment.”
His findings? Tough to do CPR. Hard to prop up a patient who is having difficulty breathing. Takes too long to load and unload a patient. Risky, too. Many equipment malfunctions.
Even though paramedics have been warning the province and ORNGE for more than a year, it took until this week for somebody to act. That came after new ORNGE boss Ron McKerlie discovered that the service’s medical director had never examined the problem.
ORNGE’s mysterious $6.7 million payment
Ontario taxpayers funded the $144 million purchase of the 12 helicopters (10 are flying) and the $7.2 million spent to design and install the medical interiors. The helicopters went into service December, 2010.
Created in 2005, ORNGE is Ontario’s air ambulance service, receiving $150 million a year in taxpayers’ money. Founder and former president Dr. Chris Mazza chose the name because air ambulances are often painted orange. The “A” was dropped in the name as a marketing ploy.
Sawadsky said ORNGE must fix the problems “as quickly as possible.” McKerlie said he takes this issue “incredibly seriously.”
The Star’s ongoing investigation shows that Sawadsky (medical director), Tom Lepine (chief operating officer), Steve Farquhar (vice-president operations) and Rick Potter (chief aviation officer) have been made aware of all of these problems over the past 12 months.
The Star questioned Lepine, Mazza and others on these issues as far back as last summer. Each time, ORNGE has denied any problems.
That changed Monday. McKerlie discovered that longtime medical director Sawadsky had never looked at the air ambulances.
“I was actually surprised that he had not been out to see them and gone on a ride-out (helicopter flight),” said McKerlie.
Sawadsky drove out to the ORNGE base at Toronto Island Airport and then wrote an email to fellow ORNGE executives.
“I spent the day at the Toronto Island base today and for the first six hours received feedback from the paramedics and played with the interior both as a patient and as a care provider in multiple positions, loading and unloading,” Sawadsky wrote.
In his two-page email Sawadsky lists 26 serious items and says about half are of critical importance.
All relate to the Swiss-manufactured Aerolite medical interiors that ORNGE purchased for $600,000 each. The heavy system includes a stretcher on a swivel pedestal and medical gear for treating patients. Aerolite designed it to specifications provided by Mazza, himself a doctor, and other ORNGE executives.
Among the problems: During transport the patient is elevated to the shoulder height of a standing paramedic. “It is virtually impossible to intubate the patient and get above the patient,” Sawadsky wrote, adding that the system to raise and lower the stretcher is subject to “frequent malfunction.”
If a patient is in respiratory distress and must be propped up, his or her head whacks against the chopper ceiling. The hydraulic lift to raise the patient is “too weak” and will not hold its position.
There is a “significant risk” to patients who vomit in flight, Sawadsky wrote. That’s because a device overtop the patient makes it almost impossible to turn a vomiting patient on his side to clear his airway.
Moving patients from a land stretcher to the helicopter stretcher is tricky and dangerous. Sawadsky said the system “poses a significant risk to patient safety.”
Among the numerous examples of ORNGE and the province being warned is a Jan. 14, 2011 incident in which pilots and paramedics on the new helicopter had to struggle to save a patient’s life.
A patient went into cardiac arrest midflight and the paramedics attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation. However, they discovered they could not carry it out because the patient was pushed toward the chopper ceiling in midflight.
“Under tremendous pressure to save the patient’s life” the crew figured out a way to provide the life-saving treatment.
A document describing these problems was sent to ORNGE head office and the provincial health ministry. No action was taken, and last summer when the Star began inquiring about these issues, ORNGE said there were no problems with the medical interior.