Quebec open to ceding some control after doctors say red tape hurt COVID-19 fight

Jacob Serebrin
·3 min read

MONTREAL — Health Minister Christian Dube said he wasn't surprised to receive a letter from nearly 700 doctors who complained Quebec's overcentralized health-care system is hurting their ability to fight COVID-19.

The doctors, who work at more than 50 health-care facilities across the province, said they're spending time battling bureaucracy when they should be caring for patients.

Dube laid the blame on health-care reforms by the previous Liberal government of Philippe Couillard. “I understand why they’re disappointed,” Dube told a news conference Thursday, adding that the reforms undertaken by former health minister Gaetan Barrette were "excessively negative."

The doctors' letter, which was published online, said managers are often far removed from the day-to-day reality of health-care centres. Doctors said they want local administrators who can make decisions quickly.

Dube said he wasn't opposed to giving hospitals more local control, adding that his department gave long-term care homes local managers after the first wave of the pandemic.

Health officials reported 25 more deaths attributed to COVID-19 Thursday and 1,030 new infections. The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations decreased by 17, to 509, while the number of intensive care patients dropped by 11, to 78.

Premier Francois Legault said those numbers remain "elevated" but are "under control."

He defended his government's handling of the pandemic by comparing Quebec's situation with that of France, where the number of news cases reported on Wednesday was proportionally five times higher than in Quebec. The French president has also announced a national lockdown.

Legault said that while he understood Quebecers' frustration, he said the restrictions in the province aren't as severe as elsewhere. He also questioned whether comparisons between provinces are valid.

The premier implied Ontario may have undercounted the number of COVID-19 deaths in that province during the first wave. He referenced a study conducted by researchers at a number of institutions, including the University of Toronto, who attempted to measure excess mortality in Ontario this spring by comparing the number of cremations to previous years.

The study, also conducted by researchers with Ontario's coroner's office, Western University and the Public Health Agency of Canada, indicated cremations in Ontario rose significantly in April and May 2020.

The number of cremations in April, for instance, increased by 1,839 -- or 32 per cent -- compared with historical averages. Public health, however, reported 1,055 deaths linked to the novel coronavirus that month. Seventy per cent of people who die in Ontario are cremated, researchers said.

Part of the difference, the study's authors said, "may be due to under-recognition of COVID-19 mortality early in the pandemic."

Legault said, "There's a lot more deaths than what was reported for deaths of COVID-19. I'm very anxious to see the real figures about (excess) mortality," he said, regarding Ontario.

The office of Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the coroner's office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Quebec has been Canada's most affected province by the novel coronavirus, with a total of 103,844 confirmed infections and 6,214 deaths. Ontario has reported 73,819 confirmed cases and 3,118 deaths.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 29, 2020.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press