12/19/2012 11:30 EST | Updated 02/18/2013 05:12 EST

Ornge appoints Ontario's chief coroner as new CEO of air ambulance service

TORONTO - Ontario's embattled air ambulance service has swooped in to snag the province's chief coroner to serve as its new president and CEO.

Dr. Andrew McCallum was appointed chief coroner in 2008 and is also a specialist in emergency medicine who has trained as a flight surgeon in the Canadian Forces.

The chairman of Ornge's board of directors said in a statement that the board is "very pleased" to have McCallum.

"His professional expertise and breadth of experience are an exceptional fit for the organization," Ian W. Delaney wrote. "He knows first-hand the needs of patients and emergency health care delivery."

Ron McKerlie has been interim president and CEO since early this year and McCallum will start his new position on Jan. 21.

According to Ornge's website, the salary of the chief executive officer is capped at $418,000.

The issue of executive salaries has been a sensitive one for Ornge, which is trying to rebuild the public's trust after a year of scandals that included ex-CEO Chris Mazza's $1.4-million compensation package.

Public records show that as chief coroner McCallum earned $405,903.33 in 2011. He said in a statement that he is "thrilled" with the new opportunity.

"I look forward to working to ensure that Ontarians receive the timely and appropriate medical care they need when they are being airlifted or transported to hospital in our aircraft and vehicles," he wrote.

"I believe Ornge has the skilled and committed personnel to accomplish this mission and working with these excellent people is one of the reasons I want to do this job."

Ornge has come under close scrutiny at Ontario's legislature, where a committee has heard explosive testimony about an alleged kickback scheme, exorbitant salaries and what one politician called "heavy-duty nepotism."

Ontario's auditor general has criticized the governing Liberals for failing to oversee Ornge, despite giving it $730 million over five years and allowing it to borrow another $300 million.

Ornge is currently under a criminal probe for financial irregularities.

Health Minister Deb Matthews thanked McKerlie for serving as interim president and CEO, saying that under his leadership, Ornge has turned a corner.

"Working with front line staff at Ornge, Dr. McCallum will continue the momentum in strengthening the high-quality service Ornge provides to Ontario patients," Matthews said in a statement.