Health Board chief: Government needs to listen more, pontificate less

Health Board head Merike Jürilo at a press conference with Tanel Kiik, social affairs minister, Thursday, shortly after she announced her resignation.
Health Board head Merike Jürilo at a press conference with Tanel Kiik, social affairs minister, Thursday, shortly after she announced her resignation. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Health Board chief Merike Jürilo, who announced her resignation Thursday, says that having to argue with various government members in response to their frequent issuing of their non-expert thoughts on coronavirus and related matters, while trying to manage a crisis, had not proved viable.

Jürilo and the Health Board had faced criticism from the government at times, including from Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Estonia, most notably over a decision to allow a volleyball competition on Saaremaa to go ahead with the involvement of a visiting team from Northern Italy.

The region was the hardest hit worldwide by the coronavirus at that time (early March); Saaremaa became by far the most affected region of Estonia with its main hospital in Kuressaare under severe pressure as cases mounted.

"Humanly speaking, it is difficult in such moments. Considering that Estonia has done well in the crisis, I can be satisfied," Jürilo told ETV news show "Aktutualne kaamera" Thursday night.

Jürilo said the crisis has affected every Estonian and in a way.

"As head of the Health Board, I say that if you manage a crisis for 16-18 hours for four or five months in a row, you can maintain that for the sake of people's lives and well-being, but you can't get into arguments with the government on trivial matters," she said.

There are many ministers in the government, Jürilo said (15 in total, including the prime minister-ed.) all of whom hold their own opinions on a wide range of issues. However, not all of them listen to expert opinion enough, she said.

"I very much hope that a culture will develop more and more in Estonia where we listen to experts, take into account their opinions, and still get to solve health care events based on the opinions of people working in the field of health," Jürilo noted.

Jürilo also said the dialogue with the government had been limited from the point of view of the Health Board. "This is definitely the place where the government could get better," she added.

Jürilo had had the public backing of social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) until Wednesday evening, when the latter gave an interview to daily Postimees in which he intimated, without naming her by name, that the government no longer had confidence in her as Health Board leader. Jürilo resigned the next day. A final bone of contention the goverrnment had raised was the Health Board decision to redistribute donated COVID-19 test kits which were no longer needed.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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