Upon arrival in Quebec on April 20, Daniel Descharnay [NDLR: qui venait d’être nommé sous-ministre adjoint aux projets spéciaux du ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux trois jours plus tôt, le 17 avril 2020] is alone in the office. He has no employees, not even a secretary. Just a table, a computer… and a task: try to predict where the next fire will break out. It’s trying to get data from the CHSLD network. For example, which places are understaffed and therefore likely to be disorganized and leak the virus? “I quickly gave up. Our control systems do not allow this. In fact, I realized that everywhere we were in danger. »
Meanwhile, François Legault, an accountant, and therefore a man with numbers, loses patience every morning in the crisis department. He wants data. How ? Where ? What is the degree of staff shortage?
“In the mornings in the crisis block, we no longer talked about hospitals, we talked about the DCSL. It turns into a big torture. Can you see multiple cases in CHSLD without infecting the entire building? It’s been two weeks since we saw yellow CHSLD; we knew it would be in orange and red two days later. It rose slowly, it settled in front of us: no matter how hard we tried to do everything, it ended like this. We were completely helpless,” says Jonathan Valois.
At the beginning of the crisis, the prime minister was mainly concerned with protective equipment. Every day I asked about the status of stocks and delivery schedule. “And then he went from ‘PPE obsessive’ mode to ‘PSD obsessive’ mode. And when he has an obsession, he takes figures and tables, ”recalls an adviser to the prime minister’s office, who asked not to be named.
The Prime Minister’s questions are often addressed to Deputy Minister Ivan Gendron. This man has worked for almost twenty years in the health care network and in the public service. He is calm, almost serene. Friendly smile, white hair. For him, the crisis is not only theoretical: his mother is in the DCSL and was the first in her institution to contract COVID. At ninety-six, she finally survived the coronavirus.
Ivan Gendron occupies a lot of space in the crisis department. At the big conference table, he has been sitting right across from François Lego, where the Minister of Health should have been, from day one. And, like in high school, every day he returned to “his place” for the long months that followed.
Daniel McCann is very far from the center of events. When asked questions, Ivan Gendron often answers for him. In short, Ivan Gendron occupies much more space than the Deputy Minister usually occupies.
It is he who is bombarded with questions by François Legault, as well as Assistant Undersecretary Natalie Rosebush, who was invited to meetings after the Herron crisis. She comes every day, armed with a huge briefcase, to draw from it the tables and data that François Legault demands, and almost always dissatisfied with the answers he is given.
With every question that François Lego asks, Yvan Gendron tries to calm him down. It is a reflex of his posture, which he invariably adopts with his political bosses, and which is an integral part of his personality. Mistake, Minister Daniel McCann will judge a posteriori during an interview for this book.
“It was annoying. Mr. Gendron is very competent. He gave everything he could give. He did everything he could. But in fact he has this trait, [celui] want to calm down. And in a crisis situation, he took exactly such a position. And it may not have served him well. In a crisis where something almost catastrophic happens, you have to speak up,” says McCann today.
“There are only two people who come from the network [de la santé] in this cell: me and Horatio [Arruda, directeur national de la santé publique]Ivan Gendron objects. We were the ones who answered the questions. When Mr Lego asked “How do death certificates work?” and I tell him “it comes by fax”, he told me: “Are there any more faxes?” Yes. Here’s how it’s designed, again. We give as much data as possible! There was an urgent need to have as accurate data as possible in a system that was not designed for this, and in a system that was missing thousands of workers! »
François Lego’s impatience grows every day before the evasive answers of the Deputy Minister. Then began a deep crisis of confidence in Ivan Gendron. Does the information it gives really reflect the real state of the network?
That’s why, ten days after Herron, there are spies on the line at the meeting of the operational headquarters. And their judgment is final: in many ways, the situation on the ground is much more dire than what the Deputy Minister is talking about, especially on the central issue of labor.
A few months later, during an interview for this book, Ivan Gendron will defend himself: “I was able to tell how much there was a lack of workers in the network, whether it was because of COVID, they were immunocompromised or because they were pregnant, what they have diseases. What can I say. From there, it was difficult to say how much I need, this is 10,000, 12,000. »
On April 15, the Ministry of Health finally announced the first count of the number of employees missing online: 6,373 employees were missing, including 1,382 at the CSLD. Normally there are 3000-4000 passes, no more. Therefore, the situation is alarming. Ten days later, that number skyrocketed with 9,987 absent employees, including 2,936 CHSLD employees. As of May 5, 11,187 employees were missing, including 3,173 people in the CSLD.
This is a real hemorrhage.
(5060: Massacre of COVID-19 in our CSLs, Gabrielle Duchenne, Katya Gagnon and Ariane Lacoursière, published by Éditions du Boréal. Available in bookstores March 29, 2022. Excerpt published with permission.)