Quebec rejects offer from doctor who helped lead fight against Ebola, then realizes who it said no to

The Quebec government is finally accepting the offer of the former president of Doctors Without Borders to work in fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Joanne Liu is a pediatric emergency specialist at Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital. She has more than 25 years of experience in pandemic response, and was featured in TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015.

Under her leadership, Doctors Without Borders called for global action in response to the spread of Ebola, demanding stronger action.

In an interview on CBC Montreal’s Daybreak Friday morning, Liu recounted how she had offered to work in one of the province’s long-term care facilities.

In response, she was told her services were not needed, despite Premier François Legault’s desperate pleas for doctors to step up to help.

“It feels like being in a hockey game and being on the penalty bench, and waiting to jump in the ice, but your time is not up yet,” Liu said. 

“I think I have something to offer and I think that me, and many other people, do. But right now, we have a government that’s really, really overwhelmed by the situation and isn’t able to take up the offer that everybody is giving.”

Last night on Twitter, Health Minister Danielle McCann thanked Liu for bringing the matter to her attention and said her team will make sure Liu is called in to help quickly.

Joanne Liu, former international president of Doctors Without Borders, at an Ebola centre in Sierra Leone. (Doctors Without Borders)

The Quebec government has been criticized for not acting swiftly enough when the virus began to spread in the province’s seniors’ and long-term care homes. 

In their daily briefings to the media, Legault and McCann repeatedly said there was a shortfall of thousands of staff in the homes — which had been beset by shortages before the pandemic and were now missing even more people after hundreds had to go into isolation.

Earlier this week, Legault urged medical specialists to help nurses and orderlies in the homes. The specialists said they had been offering to help for weeks but hadn’t received a response, nor instructions on where they were needed.

The government also set up a website for people with health care experience to volunteer to help in the province’s fight against the pandemic. 

Legault said about 4,000 people were hired out of the 50,000 or so who applied.