Ron McKerlie got a bird’s eye view of problems at Ornge’s communications centre on a recent Monday, when he rode along in an air ambulance helicopter with a patient.
Ornge was transferring a patient from intensive care at Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital in Orillia to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, and Mr. McKerlie, interim chief executive officer of the air ambulance service, was along for the 30-minute ride with the helicopter crew.
Sources familiar with the transfer of the patient said Mr. McKerlie was surprised at how little support paramedics on the flight received from dispatchers back in the communications centre in Mississauga. Paramedics are supposed to get an update on a patient’s condition prior to making contact with the patient. But in this case, the sources said, paramedics were given little information.
This was not the only communications breakdown, the sources said. After the helicopter arrived on the roof of St. Michael’s, dispatchers did not follow normal protocol by contacting the flight captain directly to notify him that another air ambulance was on its way and would be landing on the hospital’s helipad in 10 to 15 minutes. The centre contracted the paramedics, who were in the emergency department with the patient, thus wasting precious time while they in turn relayed the message to the captain.
Mr. McKerlie would not confirm that there were problems that day. “While flying with this crew, I did fly to St. Mike’s Hospital and the pilots were aware of another aircraft inbound to the helipad,” he said in an e-mail response to questions from The Globe and Mail.
Sources said the problems that happened on Feb. 13 are not an isolated incident. They are a result of former Ornge CEO Chris Mazza’s efforts to replace employees in the centre who had specialized training in medicine and aviation with less qualified “communications officers” who could handle all aspects of the job, from tracking flights to fielding calls from paramedics and hospitals.
The incident involving St. Mike’s was one of several Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees raised during Question Period on Wednesday, where he again called for the resignation of Health Minister Deb Matthews.
“Had the minister done her job three years ago, two years ago, one year ago, there would be no need for a criminal investigation [into Ornge] today,” Mr. Klees said in Question Period.
He presented Ms. Matthews (and reporters) with a list of 11 incidents: A helicopter at Ornge’s London base was out of service four nights in a row last week because there were no pilots; a helicopter was sent to the wrong hospital in London, a delay that resulted in the patient being transported to a hospital in the United States, because there was no longer a bed in London.
“This is all due to the fact that there are unqualified people throughout the ranks of this organization,” Mr. Klees told reporters.
A spokesman at Soldiers’ Memorial in Orillia confirmed on Wednesday evening that a patient was transferred from intensive care to St. Mike’s on Feb. 13, but he had no further details. A spokeswoman at St. Mike’s could not immediately confirm the transfer.
Mr. McKerlie said in the e-mail that he takes any allegations very seriously and that he has been dealing with a number of issues since he assumed the helm last month.
“While I acknowledge there are challenges, patients can rest assured they are getting high quality care when they are being transported by Ornge crews,” he said.
Zita Astravas, a spokeswoman for Ms. Matthews, said the government has forwarded the list of incidents to Ornge officials, but she said they have not yet been able to confirm the accuracy of all of the incidents because of the “lack of detail” provided by Mr. Klees.