For-profit patient transfer industry placing "people's lives in serious jeopardy"

The Ontario Ombudsman had some harsh words for the for-profit patient transfer industry Friday.  Ontario residents would be better off taking a taxi to a hospital than one of the privately owned vehicles used to transfer hundreds of thousands of non-critical patients each year, provincial watchdog Andre Marin told the Canadian Press.

The ombudsman said he was "blown away'' by the stories he heard while investigating non-emergency medical transfers, an industry that CP says is regulated in all provinces except Ontario.

It's allowed private companies to charge hundreds of dollars per patient for transports in old, beat-up ambulances operated by ``kids'' with no medical training, he said.

"They place people's lives in serious jeopardy,'' Marin said.

"These vehicles - that for all intents and purposes are ambulances - are completely without any rules,'' Marin said. "It's astounding.''

Most patient transfers were provided until recent years by ambulance services, which are highly regulated and are (largely) publicly provided.

The Liberals promised Friday to introduce legislation "at the earliest opportunity'' that would set standards and requirements for the industry if they're re-elected this fall.

"We became aware that people thought they were in an ambulance when they weren't, they thought that the driver had skills that they didn't have,'' Health Minister Deb Matthews said in an interview. ``So regulating to make sure that they meet certain standards is what we will do. Exactly what those standards will be is something we're going to be working on.''

Marin, who launched an investigation in January, said what he found was so compelling that he halted the probe and asked Premier Dalton McGuinty directly for immediate action.

"Of all the cases that I've done since I've been ombudsman, this is a case where I've rarely seen such incontrovertible and conclusive and convincing evidence early on, that was really not in dispute,'' he said.

Marin said he received more than 60 complaints about private companies providing medical transfer services.

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