Health Board falling apart

Martin Kadai.

PHOTO: Tairo Lutter

Coronavirus emergency situation key figure Martin Kadai will be the next high-ranking public servant to leave the Health Board. Early June saw the resignation of the agency’s deputy director, infectious diseases specialist Jelena Tomassova, while yesterday marked the last day of director general Merike Jürilo.

Head of the agency’s emergency medicine department Kadai explains his decision through Jürilo’s de facto removal as talk by members of the government of loss of trust in the board also concerned him. “Trust is a two-way street. If the government doesn’t trust us, it works both ways. Differences and confusion culminated in the director’s resignation and I do not see how I could continue as I was largely also behind the Health Board’s policy.”

Kadai hinted that the government has been reluctant to take the board’s advice. “We have tried to proceed in a balanced and knowledge-based manner. A small country with limited resources needs cooperation. If there is no cooperation, the wiser party will relent, as the saying goes,” Kadai said.

Minister asks Kadai to stay

Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik told Postimees that he and Kadai discussed lessons learned from the coronavirus crisis and future plans as recently as on Tuesday when Kadai’s resignation took him by surprise.

“During our conversation, he told me he has already decided to resign. I asked him to reconsider because his knowledge and experience could benefit the healthcare sector also in the future. I know him as someone of great analytical capacity and high tolerance for pressure,” Kiik said. The social minister offered Kadai the position of interim head of the Health Board that the latter turned down.

The resignation of three top officials raises the question of whether the agency can improve its readiness for a potential second wave of the coronavirus without people with valuable crisis experience. Kiik believes it is not a great concern as the board has a lot of people with valuable experience. “Every resignation leaves a mark, but I do not see anything that’s irreplaceable. We have thousands of people with crisis experience in the healthcare and social domain. Ture, people with crisis management experience probably number in the dozens. I have been in touch with medical chief of the emergency situation Arkadi Popov who has voiced preparedness to do it again. I believe that collective know-how, experience and lessons are there. We will definitely be better prepared for the second wave,” the minister emphasized.

Lt. Col. Ahti Varblane who ran the coronavirus crisis headquarters alongside Popov admitted the situation is poor at the Health Board. “There is cause for concern as the people leaving today are not the ones who should. Martin Kadai was instrumental to solving the crisis. We do not know whether the next crisis will hit in weeks or months and fully replacing [people who have] experience is not right.” Varblane also had criticism for the social ministry. “Financing and strategic leadership is up to the ministry, but the ministry is weak,” he found.

Action needed

Varblane believes the Health Board should be preparing for a new crisis and is resting on laurels today. “The important thing would be to improve people’s skills. Institutions should be working on ways to avoid in-house infection. The process should be curated by the Health Board that currently lacks both the people and funds to do it,” he said. Tanel Kiik said that preparations are being made, with efforts to stockpile personal protective gear, render infection control more effective, boost testing capacity, update guidelines and develop information systems underway. The minister added that it is unlikely that a second wave should hit immediately after the summer months and that new executives will have enough time.