Ontario's Health Minister is condemning questionable payments by Mount Sinai Hospital to the embattled former head of the province's air ambulance service, saying she wants the money paid back.
Deb Matthews reacted angrily to news that an external review found there was "no evidence" that Chris Mazza, Ornge's former chief executive officer, performed services for which the Toronto hospital paid him $148,000.
"It is absolutely unacceptable when people in health care abuse their privileges. More than anybody else, they should know what pressures there are in the health care system. They should know that when they get greedy, a patient is going to suffer," Ms. Matthews said Thursday.
In light of the review's findings, Tom Stewart resigned as Mount Sinai's physician-in-chief and chief clinical officer, the hospital said Wednesday.
"We regret this unfortunate situation," Joseph Mapa, the hospital's president and CEO, said in a statement.
Dr. Stewart – who made the arrangements with Dr. Mazza and himself had an advisory contract with Ornge – will continue his clinical practice at Mount Sinai.
Mount Sinai gave $256,000 to Dr. Mazza for "a variety" of clinical and advisory services to the hospital's intensive care unit, critical care response team and department of medicine – which were managed by Dr. Stewart – between 2006 and 2011. However, an external review failed to find evidence that all the work was done for $148,000 paid between 2009 and 2011, Dr. Mapa said.
"Dr. Stewart acknowledged that this was an error in judgment on his part," Dr. Mapa said.
Dr. Mapa also said that the hospital intends to improve its accountability procedures.
Meanwhile, Ornge paid Dr. Stewart $436,728 for advisory services between 2005 and 2012. The air ambulance service says it is unclear whether he did the work for which he was paid.
"Most interactions Dr. Stewart had with Ornge were directly with Dr. Mazza. As a result, we are unable to confirm the work performed," spokesman James MacDonald said by e-mail.
Some Ornge workers "raised objections" to the contract with Dr. Stewart but Dr. Mazza directed that it remain in effect, Mr. MacDonald said.
Ms. Matthews said she wants both Mount Sinai and Ornge to get their funds back.
"I will make sure that both organizations do everything they can to recover that money," she said.
In a memo written in late 2011, former Ornge chairman Rainer Beltzner outlined allegations that the air ambulance service was paying Dr. Stewart at the "insistence" of Dr. Mazza for "services that do not appear to have been needed or delivered". Mr. Beltzner wrote the memo, which was discussed at a legislative committee hearing last summer, to the director of the Ministry of Finance's internal audit division.
"This relationship has been going on for some time apparently, and there is a need to examine the underlying motive and authorization for these payments and the acceptance of these monies by Dr. Stewart, as well as his apparent demand for this money," Mr. Beltzner wrote.
Dr. Mazza was terminated from his post at Ornge last year.
The Ontario Provincial Police is investigating private, for-profit companies created by Ornge to determine whether any public funds were used. Ornge receives $150-million a year from the province.
Dr. Stewart is a "well-known national and international leader in critical care" medicine, according to the hospital's website.
Before becoming Mount Sinai's top doctor, he was in charge of the hospital's critical care unit for 12 years. He is also a professor of medicine and anesthesiology at the University of Toronto.
With a report from Karen Howlett