Quebec is so short of medical workers to combat the COVID-19 outbreak in nursing homes, the province has called in medical specialists, general practitioners, teachers and the 125 members of the Canadian Armed Forces to fill in 2,000 vacant jobs.
But the province doesn’t appear to need Dr. Joanne Liu.
Dr. Liu, the former president of Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders) who has fought Ebola outbreaks in Africa and a cholera epidemic in Haiti, says she was turned down when she signed up to help the Quebec medical system.
Dr. Liu was making a television appearance Friday to share her expertise on epidemics when a television presenter asked about a rumour Quebec officials had turned down her offer to help despite her vast expertise.
“There are certain people who told me I don’t have the experience to respond to an epidemic in a place like Quebec,” Dr. Liu told Paul Larocque of the TVA network. “It’s true that I’ve worked in epidemics, especially in developing countries and countries at war.”
When Mr. Larocque expressed his shock, Dr. Liu paused and used the diplomatic skills she honed as head of an international organization used to intervening among warring factions to save lives: “Well, the offer still stands.”
Quebec opened an online portal called “Je contribue!” inviting Quebeckers with medical expertise to sign up to help with the outbreak that has killed 688 people. About half of the dead fell ill in nursing homes where staff have become sick or walked off the job for fear of catching COVID-19. About 52,000 Quebeckers have signed up to help, but so far only about 4,600 people have made it through the system. Many people with expertise who are waiting to pitch in have complained about the slow bureaucratic process of getting involved.
Premier François Legault was told of examples where Quebeckers with qualifications were sent away during his briefing Friday, but not specifically about Dr. Liu. “There has to be flexibility,” Mr. Legault said. “I’ve asked people in the health system to give it another go-around to see if others are available.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday approximately 125 members of the Canadian Armed Forces with health care training will go into long-term care facilities in Quebec. The federal government will continue to work with the government of Quebec to find additional ways to support them including with the Red Cross and specialized volunteers registered with Health Canada.
General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, said the Canadian Armed Forces will look at the support that can be provided, adding he is confident their efforts will “go a long way to help improve conditions in the facilities.”
Teams comprised of nursing officers, medical technicians and support personnel will be deployed on Saturday to assist local doctors and nurses, the department added. Mr. Legault thanked Mr. Trudeau for sending the military medical personnel. “That’s one piece of good news,” Mr. Legault said.
About 80 Canadian Rangers are deployed in Nunavik in Northern Quebec to prepare triage points to facilitate the work of health personnel and around 80 others are in Basse-Côte-Nord in Eastern Quebec to assist vulnerable people and help with physical-distancing awareness programs.
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