Ever since I put the first question to the Minister of Health about the Ornge Air Ambulance scandal in March of 2011, my office has become the destination point for brown envelopes and anonymous emails that often contain allegations of gross mismanagement, waste and outright fraudulent activity across government ministries and agencies. They all start with the same appeal: “Please ensure my anonymity, because I can’t risk losing my job”.
The initial revelations about the Ornge scandal started the same way. First emails from anonymous sources, then envelopes containing copies of emails and internal documents implicating senior executives in questionable if not fraudulent activities. But it was not until a few brave souls made the courageous decision to allow their names to stand behind the allegations that those issues were allowed to be brought forward on the public record.
It was because of their courageous testimony that we were able to expose the mismanagement and abuse of the public trust that not only resulted in the waste of millions of health care dollars, but also threatened the lives of dedicated first responders and compromised patient care.
Defending the Indefensible
Those who have followed this story know that the Minister and the Premier deflected every question put to them about the goings on at Ornge until they could no longer do so – thanks to the overwhelming evidence brought to light by courageous whistle-blowers both within government and Ornge itself.
After more than eighteen months of public hearings, criminal investigations and a scathing Auditor General’s Report that chastised the government for its lack of oversight, one would have thought that some hard lessons were learned. Unfortunately, the events of this past week confirmed for me that the doctrine of defending the indefensible is alive and well on the front benches at Queen’s Park.
To illustrate, I invite you to consider the following excerpts from the Official Hansard Transcript of an exchange that took place between myself and the Minister of Health during Question Period this past Wednesday. The information I presented to the Minister had been relayed to me the day before by a reliable source.
Official Hansard Transcript
Mr. Frank Klees: To the Minister of Health: Just after midnight on August 29, Thunder Airlines, under contract to Ornge to provide air ambulance service, was dispatched to Pikangikum First Nation. That was a Code 4.
When that crew landed, an Air Bravo aircraft, also under contract to Ornge, was already there with two Ornge paramedics. Air Bravo could not transfer that patient because the satellite telephone was not functioning. The patient, along with the Ornge medics, was flown to Thunder Bay, where the patient was eventually admitted. The delay was extensive.
Is the minister aware of this incident, and can she tell us what the outcome was for that patient?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: Speaker, I can tell you that Ornge is committed to providing the highest possible quality of care in Pikangikum and elsewhere across this whole province. I can tell you that the new leadership in Ornge is really focusing on measuring and improving the care they provide, and I can assure you that every effort is made to provide the highest quality care in every case.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?
Mr. Frank Klees: Apparently the minister knows nothing about it.
I can tell the minister that that patient died. I can also tell the minister that it is alleged that the reason the Air Bravo satellite telephone was not working was because Air Bravo had not paid its bills. I can also tell the minister that the CEO of Air Bravo admitted under testimony last week that the company was having serious financial difficulties.
I can also tell the minister that Ornge failed, when issuing a contract to Air Bravo, to conduct any financial inspection of that company to determine whether it had the capacity to deliver.
I’d like to ask the minister this question: After everything we have heard about the lack of oversight on the part of the ministry and on the part of Ornge over the work that has to be done to deliver safe, secure, reliable air ambulance, why, over this number of months, do we still have to hear about incidents like this?
Hon. Deborah Matthews: I know the member opposite would be interested in hearing some of the quality metrics and results at Ornge. …… Full Transcript
Actually, I was not interested in hearing anything about quality metrics. I was hoping to get a forthright response from the Minister to a question that has serious implications to our province’s air ambulance system, the safety of the front line people delivering that service and the quality and reliability of patient care. You decide how much we’ve learned.
Video of the question