Ontario's health minister is coming under fire amid reports that the beleaguered air ambulance service Ornge could not respond to a fatal collision in Whitchurch-Stouffville because of staffing issues.
Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees revealed during question period in the Ontario legislature that a transcript of an emergency call shows Ornge replied to a request for an air ambulance Wednesday morning by saying it had no resources.
'I guess the message to the people of Ontario is: arrange your emergency so that it coincides with the staffing levels at the air ambulance service.' — Ontario PC MPP Frank Klees
The victim, the driver of a cube van, was transported by land ambulance from the crash scene north of Toronto.
Police say the driver succumbed to his injuries in hospital after his eastbound van crossed the centre line on Bloomington Road east of Ninth Line and collided with a westbound Mack dump truck at about 6:30 a.m. The truck driver had minor injuries.
Ornge air ambulance service has two helicopters based in Toronto. An Ornge spokesperson said one was on a call when the crash happened, and the other was unavailable because the crew worked a late shift Tuesday.
"I guess the message to the people of Ontario is: arrange your emergency so that it coincides with the staffing levels at the air ambulance service," said Klees.
Health Minister Deb Matthews has told ornge to investigate.
"Some are jumping to conclusions. I will not do that. I want to know what the facts are. I want to understand what happened before I pass comment on it," she said.
Matthews said the crash was a "tragic" accident and said her heart goes out to the victim's family.
Staffing a 'very, very high priority'
But Klees and New Democrat France Gelinas questioned in the legislature earlier Wednesday how Ornge could find itself unable to respond to an emergency at a time when it is under such a spotlight.
Klees said the opposition has been warning that Ornge has not been able to respond to emergencies. The ambulance service is under a criminal investigation for allegedly questionable business practices, and inflated salaries, especially for its former CEO, Dr. Chris Mazza..
"I ask [Health Minister Deb Matthews] if ensuring proper staffing levels was not a priority for her leadership team, what was?," Klees said.
Matthews replied by urging Klees not to politicize the issue.
"I can assure the member opposite and the people of Ontario that staffing is a very, very high priority for the new leadership at Ornge," she said in response to Klees.