The disgraced former head of Ontario's troubled air ambulance service should be behind bars, not working in the emergency room of a Thunder Bay hospital, Progressive Conservative critic Frank Klees said Tuesday.
Dr. Chris Mazza was fired as CEO of the Ornge air ambulance service in early 2012 after he set up a complex web of spin-off companies that are still the subject of a special investigation by Ontario Provincial Police.
Klees said he was "shocked" when he got a call saying Mazza was working in the emergency department at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.
"Apart from the obvious irreparable damage that was done to our emergency ambulance service, and the harm that was done to the men and women who were forced to work under this man's tyranny, he travelled the world in the lap of luxury at taxpayers' expense," a fired-up Klees told the legislature.
"He saddled taxpayers with multi-millions of dollars of debt thanks to his mismanagement. He should not be in an emergency ward. He should be in a jail."
Hospitals make their own hiring decisions
Health Minister Deb Matthews said hospitals hire doctors independently, and it's up to the College of Physicians and Surgeons to determine if Mazza is fit to practice.
"I do find it strange that the member opposite is suggesting that we investigate, convict and jail someone," Matthews told the legislature.
Mazza's lawyer, Roger Yachetti, said he hadn't talked to his client but would be advising him not to do any interviews to respond to the attack from Klees.
"He is attempting to recover from what I consider to be very unfair treatment, so I will not recommend that he engage in any interviews at this time," Yachetti said.
"He is making a determined effort to return to his work as a very skilled emergency room doctor and I don't want to have him engage in anything that's going to set him back from that."
Ornge, which gets about $150 million from the province, had been under fire over what opposition critics say were sky-high salaries, financial irregularities and allegations of kickbacks.
Mazza is under criminal investigation by the OPP, faces another probe by the College of Physicians and Surgeons for "his unethical conduct," and pleaded mental incapacity when called to testify before a legislative committee last year, Klees said.
"Front-line staff and patients were put at risk as a direct result of his gross mismanagement and fraudulent schemes and self-aggrandizement," he told the legislature.
"How can the minister justify this offensive disrespect for the front-line staff at Ornge, for the patients whose lives were put at risk and for the taxpayers of this province who were ripped off for millions as a result of his mismanagement?"
Minister 'surprised' by Mazza hiring
Outside the legislature, Matthews told reporters she was caught off guard by news Mazza had been hired by the hospital in Thunder Bay.
"I was surprised when I heard, but that is a decision of the hospital," she said.
Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre recently lost several full-time doctors and hired Mazza to fill-in in the emergency department.
"We view this as an opportunity to welcome a highly skilled and experienced emergency department physician to deliver quality clinical care to patients," hospital chief of staff Dr. Gordon Porter said in a statement Tuesday.
"Dr. Mazza visited our (emergency department) under a mentor this past weekend and the feedback I had from our staff afterwards about him was very positive. I have no concerns about Dr. Mazza providing patient care. His services are welcome and appreciated here."
Klees wasn't interested in the hospital's staffing needs.
"No hospital in this province should be in such desperate need to hire Dr. Chris Mazza to work in their emergency ward," he said.
Mazza's $1.4 million a year salary and that of other executives at Ornge weren't disclosed on the annual sunshine list of public sector workers making over $100,000 a year. He also received hundreds of thousands of dollars for being a medical director of Ornge, and was given loans totalling $1.2 million in a single year.
Ornge is still trying to recover some of that money, but Matthews wouldn't comment on whether or not the province could try to take it off his paycheque from the Thunder Bay hospital.
"That is an issue before the courts," said Matthews. "I understand he has counter-sued."
Mazza was an emergency room specialist when he founded Ornge in 2005 as a new way to deliver air ambulance services in Ontario.
Forced to testify before a legislative committee under a speaker's warrant, he argued the health ministry knew about the changes he was making at Ornge and never told him he had veered off course.