Quebec’s public health director resigns as hospitals overwhelmed by Omicron

Quebec's public health director resigns as hospitals overwhelmed by Omicron-Milenio Stadium-Canada
Quebec Premier François Legault, left, has accepted the resignation of Dr. Horacio Arruda, right, who has served as the province’s public health director for nearly 12 years. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Quebec Premier François Legault has accepted the resignation of the province’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda.

Arruda submitted his letter of resignation on Monday as the Omicron wave overwhelms hospitals across the province, forcing the health-care network to postpone surgeries and other medical services.

The crisis has drawn criticism from people like Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade, who said recently “intuition, not science” is leading Quebec’s pandemic policy. And while some are calling for stronger leadership, hundreds of Quebecers took to Montreal’s streets Saturday to protest tightening public health measures.

“Recent comments about the credibility of our opinions and our scientific rigour are undoubtedly causing some erosion of public support,” Arruda wrote in his resignation letter.

“Given this erosion, I consider it appropriate to offer you the possibility of replacing me before the end of the term of my mandate.”

Arruda has held the position for nearly 12 years. He was reappointed to another three-year term in June 2020.

He said in the letter that, should the premier wish, he would continue to serve.

However, the premier has already selected Arruda’s successor and will likely make the announcement during a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Radio-Canada has learned.

The new director will be Dr. Luc Boileau, Radio-Canada says.

Boileau is currently president and CEO of the Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) —  a government health-care institute that works to promote clinical excellence and the efficient use of resources in the health and social services sector.

In recent weeks, Quebec’s COVID-19 cases climbed so high that the province was forced to stop PCR testing as tens of thousands of people sought tests every day. Labs and testing site personnel could not keep up with the demand.

The provincial government has been locking down the economy once again, encouraging people to stay home by closing gyms, restaurant dining rooms and entertainment venues. A curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. is in place, stopping all non-essential travel at night.

Still, urban and rural hospitals alike are reaching their highest alert, running out of beds for new patients. On Monday, Quebec reported 2,554 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 248 patients in intensive care.

During recent news conferences, Legault has been routinely asked if he still has faith in Arruda and the premier has defended him.

For example, on Dec. 30, Legault said, “I think we have all the necessary expertise to make the best decisions.” He said other governments — other states — have been following Quebec’s lead throughout the pandemic.

“So I think we are ahead of the parade and it is important to stay like that, and it is, among other things, thanks to Dr. Arruda,” Legault said.

In his resignation letter, Arruda says he and his colleagues have, over the last two years, “fought tirelessly to minimize the impact of this terrible COVID-19 pandemic.”

“In a context of uncertainties and rapid advances in knowledge, we issued public health opinions and made recommendations, the best possible, to support the government in its decision-making in a timely manner.”

Various expert opinions and public-health standards have been taken into account when making those recommendations, Arruda says.

“We have paid particular attention to our most vulnerable populations and taken into account the significant impacts of the proposed measures on the multiple determinants of health and the health-care network,” he says.

Arruda says he does not see his offer to resign as abandonment, but rather an “offer of an opportunity to reassess the situation.”


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