On his arrival in Quebec on April 20, Daniel Desharnais [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 an office. He has no employees, not even a secretary. Just a desk, a computer… and a mandate: trying to predict where the next fire will break out. He’s trying to get data from the CHSLD network. For example, what are the places that are understaffed and therefore likely to be disorganized and let the virus in? “I gave up quickly. Our management systems do not allow this. I even realized that we were in danger everywhere. †
And meanwhile, François Legault, who is an accountant, so a man of numbers, gets impatient every morning in the crisis department. He wants data. How much ? Where ? How big is the staff shortage?
“In the mornings in the crisis department we no longer talked about hospitals, but about CHSLDs. It’s going to be one big torture session. Can you see some cases in a CHSLD without the whole building being contaminated? It’s been two weeks since we saw a CHSLD in yellow coming; we knew it would be in orange and red two days later. It rose slowly, it settled for us: no matter how hard we tried to do everything, it ended like this. We were totally helpless,” said Jonathan Valois.
At the beginning of the crisis, the Prime Minister was mainly concerned with protective equipment. Every day he inquired about the stock status and the delivery schedule. “And then he went from an ‘obsession with personal protective equipment’ mode to an ‘obsession with CHSLDs’ mode. And when he has an obsession, he takes numbers and tables,” an adviser to the Prime Minister’s Office recalled, who asked not to be named.
The Prime Minister’s questions are very often addressed to Secretary of State Yvan Gendron. This man has worked in the health network and in the senior public service for almost twenty years. He is calm, almost calm. Friendly smile, white hair. For him, the crisis is not just theoretical: his mother is housed in a CHSLD and was the first in her establishment to contract COVID. At ninety-six, she finally survived the coronavirus.
Within the crisis unit, Yvan Gendron takes up a lot, a lot of space. From the first day at the large conference table, he sits directly opposite François Legault, where the Minister of Health should have been. And, just like in a high school class, everyone went back to “their place” every day for the long months that followed.
Danielle McCann is far from the heart of the action. When questions are asked of him, Yvan Gendron often answers for him. In short, Yvan Gendron takes up much more space than a secretary of state normally takes.
It is he who bombards François Legault with questions, as well as the assistant deputy secretary Natalie Rosebush, who was invited to participate in the meetings after the Herron crisis. She arrives every day armed with a huge briefcase to extract from it the tables and data that François Legault demands, moreover almost always dissatisfied with the answers he receives.
With every question François Legault asks, Yvan tries to reassure Gendron. It is his attitude reflex, which he invariably adopts with his political bosses and which is an integral part of his personality. A mistake, Secretary Danielle McCann will judge a posteriori during an interview for this book.
“It was annoying. Mr. Gendron is very capable. He gave everything he could. He did everything he could do. But actually he has this quality, [celui] want to reassure. And in a crisis situation, this is the attitude he has adopted. And maybe that didn’t serve him well. In a crisis situation, if something almost catastrophic happens, you have to say it,” McCann said today.
“There are only two people who come out of the network [de la santé] in this cell: me and Horacio [Arruda, directeur national de la santé publique], replies Yvan Gendron. We were the ones answering the questions. When Mr. Legault said, “How do death certificates work?” and I said to him “It comes by fax”, he said to me: “Does it still exist, faxes?” Yes. That’s how it’s designed. We provide as much information as possible! There was an urgent need for the most accurate data possible, in a system that was not designed for it, and in a system where thousands of workers were missing! †
François Legault’s impatience grows every day at the evasive answers of the Deputy Minister. A deep crisis of confidence in Yvan Gendron then set in. Does the information it provides really reflect the reality of the state of the network?
This is why, ten days after Herron, spies are now on the line at a crisis cell meeting. And their verdict is final: in several respects the situation on the ground is far more disastrous than what the State Secretary says, especially on a central issue, that of manpower.
Months later, in an interview for this book, Yvan Gendron will defend herself: “I was able to say how many employees were missing from the network, whether it was because of COVID, whether they were immune or because they are pregnant, that they have illnesses. “I can say. From there to say how much it would cost me, it’s 10,000, 12,000, that was hard.”
On April 15, the Ministry of Health finally released a first count of the number of workers missing from the network: there were 6,373 absent workers, including 1,382 in CHSLDs. Normally there are 3,000 to 4,000 absences, no more. The situation is therefore worrying. Ten days later, this number rose dramatically: 9,987 absent employees, 2,936 of them in CHSLDs. As of May 5, there were 11,187 missing workers, including 3,173 in CHSLDs.
It’s a real bleed.
†5060: The massacre of COVID-19 in our CHSLDs, by Gabrielle Duchaine, Katia Gagnon and Ariane Lacoursière, published by Éditions du Boréal. In bookstores March 29, 2022. Excerpt published with permission of the publisher.)