The Ontario government says it has chosen Dr. Homer Tien, the CEO and president of Ornge Air Ambulance, to lead its COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force.
Tien, also a trauma surgeon at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, will be the “operational lead” of the task force as the province prepares to move into Phase 2 of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, according to Stephen Warner, spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.
Tien’s official title is chair of the task force and he replaces retired Gen. Rick Hillier in that role. Hillier stepped down when his contract expired on March 31. He declined a request to stay on.
“Dr. Tien has been part of the Task Force since it was established and has worked closely with the province on leading Operation Remote Immunity,” Warner said in an email on Sunday,
“Operation Remote Immunity was instrumental in delivering and administering vaccines to 31 remote fly-in First Nation communities in northern Ontario plus Moosonee.”
As of Friday, April 2, more than 24,000 vaccine doses have been distributed as part of Operation Remote Immunity, the government said.
‘I don’t think they could have picked a better person’
Lynne Innes, president and CEO of the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority and a nurse practitioner, worked with Tien on Operation Remote Immunity and as a partner in care providing service to the James and Hudson Bay coast when he was working for Ornge.
Both went to the Cree community of Peawanuck in Ontario’s Kenora district to kick off Operation Remote Immunity on Jan. 26, 2021.
“I’ve always had a positive working relationship with Dr. Tien. I have the utmost confidence in his skills and ability to complete the task. And I congratulate him in his new role,” she said.
“It’s well-deserved and I don’t think they could have picked a better person.”
Innes, a member of Moose Cree First Nation, helped to lead the vaccine rollout in Indigenous communities in the James and Hudson Bay coast regions.
“He deals with many logistical pieces throughout Ontario. It seems like it’s a good fit for sure. I have all the confidence in the world in him in the successful rollout as he moves forward in his new role,” Innes said.
Tien to work as task force chair part-time
According to the government’s website, Tien will be chair part-time and his term, which began April 1, will continue until August 2021. Tien was not available for an interview on Sunday.
“The Vaccine Distribution Task Force position has always been classified by the Public Appointments Secretariat as Part Time. Members of the Task Force who are not employed through the Ontario Public Service are remunerated at $398 per diem,” Warner said.
As for Hillier, Warner thanked him for his service to the province. Hillier received $20,000 a month, according to a cabinet order.
“General Hillier was tasked with overseeing the development of Ontario’s vaccine rollout plan and associated infrastructure,” Warner said.
“The plan and infrastructure are now in place, and the province is administering more and more vaccines each day. We are grateful for his leadership and guidance in getting us this far.”
Hillier’s tenure was marked by criticism about distribution pace and communication. He oversaw the launches of the provincial vaccine booking portal as well as pilot projects allowing select pharmacists and primary-care providers to begin administering the coveted shots.
Ornge says Tien to continue as president
Ornge said Tien, who was already part of the provincial taskforce and helped oversee vaccine delivery to several remote communities, will stay on as the ambulance service’s president as he takes on his new role. He has served as president since January 2020.
In a tweet early Sunday, Ornge announced: “As Ontario moves into Phase 2 of our vaccine rollout plan, Dr. Homer Tien, trauma surgeon and President and CEO of Ornge, Air Ambulance, will serve as the operational lead of the COVID-19 Distribution Task Force.”
The government said Tien was medical director of Tory Regional Trauma Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, before he worked with Ornge, and is a colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces, having served as a trauma surgeon and chief of military medical and surgical specialties.
The government said it has administered more than 2 million vaccines and has capacity to administer upwards of 150,000 vaccines per day depending upon supply. In Phase 2, Ontario will begin to vaccinate frontline workers.
The task force advises the Ontario government on delivery, storage and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. It will also provides support for the health care system as it delivers the “phased” vaccination program.