Premier urges some local medical officers to 'pick their socks up' as COVID-19 testing dips in Ontario
TORONTO -- Ontario Premier Doug Ford is calling on half of the province’s 34 local medical officers of health to “pick their socks up” and start testing more people for COVID-19.
“I’m calling them out right now – you’ve got to pick up the pace,” Ford said at Queen’s Park on Tuesday afternoon during his daily news conference.
“I’ll tell you right now, I’m disappointed in the chief medical officers in some regions. I’m not going to name them – they know who they are – start picking up your socks and start doing testing.”
On April 10, the province set a goal of conducting 16,000 tests per day by May 6. On Sunday, Ontario exceeded that target three days ahead of schedule with 17,146 tests being conducted in the last 24-hour period to be recorded.
Ford touted this progress at Monday’s news conference, saying “these gains are significant.”
However, the premier’s tone took a sharp turn the next day as provincial health officials stated that 10,654 tests were conducted between 12:00 a.m. and 11:59 p.m. on Monday.
“I was on here the last few days saying ‘They are doing a great job, they are hitting 17,000 consistently’ and then all of a sudden you come in and you see the 10,000,” Ford said. “I still say everyone is doing a great job, but when I look at the chart it starts up here and then it goes all the way down and there are certain medical officers in certain jurisdictions – keep in mind we have 34 chief medical officers across the province and some just aren’t performing.”
Of those 34 chief medical officers, Ford said half of them are “knocking it out of the park,” but the other 17 “aren’t even putting the work in.”
“When you have 34 of them, you see 17 of them performing extremely well and then you see the other 17, the tier that looks like a ski slope going down,” he said. “I just want to ask them ‘What’s the problem, why aren’t you testing?’”
Ford said he is going to have to get on the phone with these chief medical officers “and find out what reason, what excuse they are going to give as to why they aren’t testing.”
“We need to hold these people accountable. Hopefully they can come up with a pretty legitimate excuse. I can’t come up with any excuses right now and I talk to our health team and they can’t give me any reasons as well, so we’re going to be on them, they need to pick their socks up.”
Speaking shortly after the premier’s news conference, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams agreed that all local public health units must pull their weight in this fight against the novel coronavirus, but added that there has been an issue with receiving tests from all regions in a timely manner on some days.
“The problem that we have identified has still not been rectified by the laboratory network system, where there was the community labs have received many of the samples being taken by the health units, but they have stayed out in those community labs, like last week, because there’s no system for moving those around on the weekend so then they come in all on Tuesday and Wednesday and then our numbers go back up again,” he said. “These types of system issues need to be addressed.”
Despite the technical issues, Williams said “we don’t need excuses, we need solutions” if even one of the 34 local public health units isn’t “up to speed.”
Ontario looking at Alberta’s public health model
In terms of shifting the province’s structure when it comes to public health after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided, Ford said he is “starting to look at the Alberta model.”
“This goes back to my conversation about after this is over we need to review it and start looking at the Alberta model,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to have one person in control than 34 people in control.”
Back in 2008, Canada’s first province-wide, fully integrated health system was announced in Alberta. It brought 12 former separate health entities in the province together under one Chief Medical Officer of Health. According to Alberta Health Service’s website, it delivers health-care services to more than 4.3 million people living in the province.
Ontario has a population of 14.5 million people and Toronto Public Health alone is responsible for the health and well-being of 2.9 million residents.
Ford said having a “centralized” and “standardized” public health system would “just makes things go a lot smoother.”
“That’s something we can look at,” he said. “I can’t say we are going to go that way, but, again, with collaboration with our health team and people across the province and the mayors, we have to sit down and come up with a better solution than the results that I’m seeing today.”
Testing is ‘within the purview of the province’
Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa responded to the premier’s comments on Tuesday afternoon at the city’s daily news conference.
“When we think about testing, which is actually within the purview of the province, for any role that we play as local public health is in support of that, because it’s outside of our purview, it is an extra step that we are doing,” she said.
De Villa said local public health units should be willing to “collaborate” with the province on testing during this “unprecedented global emergency.”
“I think it’s important for the people of Toronto, and if I can speak on behalf of my colleagues across the province, I think that’s important that the people of the province recognize that local public health is interested in collaborating and being supportive, particularly in these situations where collaboration is most needed to affect a response,” she said.
“We’re willing to step up to the plate to do what needs to be done to protect the health of the residents we serve.”