Provincial government inspectors have found a litany of problems over the years at a private stretcher service for the infirm in Winnipeg, CBC News has found.

Medi-Van Transport Inc., a private stretcher service that makes abut 25,000 service calls annually, has been reprimanded repeatedly over the last three years for having faulty or missing equipment in its vehicles, operating vehicles that frequently break down and even mishandling patients at times.

According to inspection documents obtained by CBC News, Medi-Van staff were picking up a patient at the Winnipeg airport in August 2008 and dropped the individual onto the tarmac.

The review found Medi-Van employees made several mistakes that contributed to the accident. Further, one of them wasn't even licensed to be doing the job. The incident was only reported to authorities when provincial officials called Medi-Van to ask about it 37 hours later.

Stretcher service not allowed to act as ambulance

The inspections began three years ago because provincial officials felt the company was sometimes trying to act as an ambulance service, which it is specifically not allowed to do. The stretcher service is supposed to be used only in non-emergency situations to transport people who are infirm or have reduced mobility.

'They should not be in business if they don't have the proper vehicles, the proper care, the proper training. When it comes to health care, there are no shortcuts.' — Chuck Cruden, patient advocate

The company's "provisional" licences dictate the limits of the service it can provide, according to Bernadette Preun, a spokesperson with Manitoba Health, which performs the inspections.

Medi-Van was told to remove the sirens and red lights from its vehicles, which was done initially, but follow-up inspections revealed some of that equipment had been re-installed.

Inspections also showed that some vehicles were found to be missing some mandatory items while other vehicles had basic safety equipment that did no function, such as "the suction or the latch to secure the stretcher to the back door," states a report from December.

Many vehicles are "older and well-worn," experiencing frequent no-starts and breakdowns, especially when weather conditions are unfavourable. Last year, one-third of the 20 vehicles in the Medi-Van fleet failed provincial inspections.

Preun insists the public is safe despite the fact that her inspectors rarely examine all of the vehicles in the fleet.

But Chuck Cruden, a patient advocate in Manitoba and former member of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's patient safety advisory council, disagreed.

"They should not be in business if they don't have the proper vehicles, the proper care, the proper training," he said. "When it comes to health care, there are no shortcuts."

The president of Medi-Van refused to comment on the concerns raised by the inspectors.