Helicopters Magazine

Editorial: April 2016

March 11, 2016  By Matt Nicholls

Like many Ontarians, I have followed with keen interest the ongoing challenges Ontario’s aerial medical transport service, ORNGE, has been involved in for the past few years – from the Ontario Provincial Police investigation into financial impropriety by the previous corporate team led by Christopher Mazza to the investigations into a fatal accident in Moosonee on May 31, 2013 that took the lives of two pilots and two medical paramedics.

From an operations standpoint, it has been a painful history at best, one major media outlets have devoured – and rightly so. As a lifelong Ontario resident, I expect accountability at all levels with any essential service and as a taxpayer, frankly, I expect more. Much more.

I have also spent a large portion of my life in the north, having been raised in Thunder Bay, and I realize just how important this service is to those in need in remote communities. This is not the GTA – there are more trees than roads here, and for remote northern communities, ORNGE is the only game in town. Mistakes or flight delays can’t happen or lives will be lost – efficiency is paramount.

As an aviation journalist, I am also privy to much more information, giving me insight into the inner workings of aviation teams, and operational structure and philosophy. It’s an interesting perspective, one which affords me context and appreciation for the task at hand.

ORNGE has plenty of work to do going forward, but following a recent meeting with the new leadership team at ORNGE’s Mississauga, Ont. headquarters, it is apparent to me that progress is being made, not only on the operational level but in the skies as well. (For more on the ORNGE transformation see, “An ORNGE Revival” page 17.)


ORNGE president/CEO Andrew McCallum has created a cohesive, focused management structure, one built on clarity of purpose and policy. He is positive, proactive and inspirational in his approach to change, and has, with his team, worked to implement processes and procedures that have reduced operational costs, patient wait times and relationships with key health care partners and facilitators. Clients working with ORNGE report patients have better, more efficient care today, and it is improving. ORNGE clients are also more positive about working with Ontario’s medical provider in helping to deliver essential patient care services.

 “We are looking at the lessons of the past and are forward looking now,” McCallum told Helicopters. “We are trying to move to a different footing and I think we are doing that. We are certainly more focused.”

The implementation of greater efficiencies and safety practices has also been adopted on the aviation side. Under the leadership of COO Rob Giguere, ORNGE has improved safety, training, pilot competencies, maintenance, the imminent addition of NVGs for night flying and approaches at challenging helipads . . . a transformation that will greatly enhance the safety envelope.

When asked what key enhancements have meant to ORNGE, Giguere noted, “It doesn’t seem that remarkable [to us], but it is all a component of how do we get stronger, how do we get better, and how do we get more compliant.

“It is very clear we have a cohesive team at the top and I can say with all certainty that the goals are aligned internally. They are also aligned with our stakeholders and the ministry who fund us. So, we have become very collaborative with them in terms of building solutions.”

The addition of chief medical officer Homer Tien has helped ORNGE reach another level of medical care. ORNGE has improved critical patient-medical provider interaction and is working hard on improving information gathering processes. Implementing telemedicine, for example, will also improve patient care. “We already involved doctors in that process, they are called air transport medical physicians – it’s a way to improve our precision in triaging our patients,” Tien said.

Recovering from a scandal of this magnitude and rebuilding trust will be an ongoing process for the ORNGE corporate team but they are certainly on the right track. Such a transformation was not only necessary, but frankly, required – for both Ontario residents supporting the service and patients in need.


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