Ornge plans 24-7 service for region

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The province’s air ambulance service says it will beef up its staff of paramedics at its Thunder Bay base so that its helicopter will always be able to fly.
“Thunder Bay will have the largest (Ornge) base in the province,” Ornge spokeswoman Jennifer Tracy said Thursday.
Ten paramedics will be added at the Thunder Bay base, so that Ornge’s two planes and one chopper will each have a dedicated crew, allowing each aircraft the ability to take to the air 24 hours a day.
Along with allegations of fiscal mismanagement, Ornge has been dogged by concerns that its Thunder Bay helicopter was occasionally grounded because a paramedic wasn’t always available to be on board.
The plan to hire 10 paramedics was announced Thursday by new Ornge president Dr. Andrew McCallum.
A timeframe to have the paramedics trained and ready to go isn’t yet known, said Tracy.
“These changes won’t happen overnight, but we’re committed to demonstrating progress in the coming months by making the staffing levels in Thunder Bay a priority,” McCallum said in a news release.
Ornge must find a way to cover salaries for the additional paramedics in its existing $150-million budget, said Tracy.
Currently, Ornge’s Thunder Bay base, located at the city’s airport, has a total staff of 70, including pilots.
In addition to its dedicated aircraft at Thunder Bay airport, Ornge can dispatch other aircraft under agreements with independent airlines, said Tracy.
Geraldton District Hospital CEO Kurt Pristanski said he was glad to hear about Ornge’s plans to hire additional paramedics.
But Pristanski said that to his knowledge, patients at his hospital haven’t been negatively affected by Ornge’s helicopter being unable to fly.
“I’ve heard the talk about it, but if we’ve got a true emergency (Ornge aircraft) are usually here real quick,” he said.
Pristanski said outgoing patients are sometimes delayed by severe storms, when no aircraft are able to fly.
A legislative committee looking into how Ornge was run under the direction of former CEO Dr. Chris Mazza came to a halt last fall when outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the legislature.
After the operation of Ornge was severely criticized last spring in an auditor general’s report, the service has implemented an “improved patient relations process, hired a patient advocate, and introduced a new conflict of interest policy and a whistleblower protection policy,” said the news release.