The lack of key, front-line staff raises fresh questions at Ornge, which has been embroiled in controversy for months over a series of private, for-profit ventures created by former insiders that are now at the centre of an Ontario Provincial Police probe.
Revelations of the latest problem, when a helicopter was unable to assist in the aftermath of a Stouffville accident due to short staffing, go to the heart of Ornge: The Ontario government provides it with annual funding of $150-million to manage all aspects of the province’s air ambulance service.
But Ornge is operating with a shortage of pilots and paramedics, which critics say is causing it to compromise patient care. Ornge interim chief executive officer Ron McKerlie acknowledged in an interview on Wednesday that it does not have enough pilots, but he said the stream of negative headlines makes it difficult to recruit new employees.
Health Minister Deb Matthews said she has asked Barry McLellan, chief executive officer of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and a new Ornge board member, to look into the matter.
“There is a shortage of pilots trained to fly on this particular aircraft,” Ms. Matthews told reporters. “It’s an issue that Ornge is dealing with.”
Sources close to Ornge and opposition members questioned why the service does not have a contingency plan to deal with crew members who start their shifts late.
“If it’s now to the point where Ontarians have to arrange their emergencies in accordance with the shifts at Ornge, that’s not very reassuring,” said Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees, who raised the matter in Question Period on Wednesday.