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Ontario's Ornge air ambulance cuts jobs and youth injury program

Auditors from Ontario's Ministry of Finance are probing all aspects of the Ornge air-ambulance service.

John Hanley for The Globe and Mail/john hanley The Globe and Mail

Ontario's embattled air ambulance service has terminated 18 jobs and shut down an injury prevention program for youths as part of a restructuring of its corporate office.

Ornge founder and chief executive officer Chris Mazza set up J Smarts after his own personal tragedy – his teenage son, Josh, died in March, 2006, of severe head injuries sustained in a skiing accident.

Auditors from the provincial Ministry of Finance are probing all aspects of Ornge, including related not-for-profit and for-profit corporate entities. J Smarts operated out of Ornge's corporate head office on Explorer Drive in Mississauga, Ont.

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In a statement to The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, Ornge confirmed the "immediate termination" of 18 staff positions from administrative departments.

"In an effort to contain costs and to re-direct our focus, including our resources, on the front-line delivery of patient care, Ornge's corporate office has been restructured," said Ron McKerlie, a senior bureaucrat who replaced Dr. Mazza at the helm earlier this month. "This restructuring has included the shutting down of J Smarts."

Health Minister Deb Matthews installed Mr. McKerlie, deputy minister of government services, as interim chief executive officer after Dr. Mazza went on "indefinite" medical leave in December, one day before media reports disclosed that he is one of the province's highest-paid public sector employees, earning $1.4-million a year.

Ornge is under scrutiny over its plans to make money by having for-profit companies it set up trade on the expertise of its not-for-profit air ambulance service as well as for complaints about the service's response times. The Globe and Mail has reported that the Health Ministry is investigating 13 cases, including three deaths, involving Ornge.

It is not clear what J Smarts had to do with providing air ambulance service in Ontario, said a source close to Ornge. "It existed on the coattails of the bigger organization," he said.

Ornge says on its website that the J Smarts program teaches children and young adults how to identify, assess, and manage the risks of athletic activities.

"Youth need to understand the principles behind injury prevention through activities that build awareness and educate them," the website says.

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Ornge invited the public to make donations to J Smarts through its Ornge Foundation, a charity created in 2007.

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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