'Rahva teenrid': Health Board should explain cold storage working principle

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Huko Aaspõllu, Urmet Kook and Sulev Vedler. Source: ERR

While the Health Board has been forthcoming in terms of what happened at its vaccines and medicines cold storage facility, it could also explain how the system should work, journalists found on the "Rahva teenrid" talk show on Saturday.

The Health Board said this week that it will probably write off all vaccines and medicines that were in the malfunctioning cold warehouse in the interests of safety. The damage could total over €3 million.

ERR journalist Urmet Kook described the incident as highly regrettable and said there are still plenty of confusing aspects.

"I believe that all major publications have asked about the storage conditions, how the system was supposed to work, about alarms and whether a human factor was involved in addition to automated systems. We do not know those details. The Health Board has not released those details, giving its in-house investigation as the reason," Kook said.

Sulev Vedler from Eesti Ekspress agreed. "The Health Board has failed to explain how it should have worked. I can understand there being an investigation into what happened. However, it would not be difficult to explain how the system should have worked. It is not classified," he noted. "Companies usually provide descriptions of crisis situations."

ERR journalist Huko Aaspõllu said as much. "It would hardly be difficult for the board to demonstrate to journalists how the system should have operated," he said.

"The question is whether someone has created an insufficient system, whether someone has not done their work properly, and where responsibility begins. If we want to criticize the board for something, it is not coming clean about the system. That much is clear. Regarding future problems, we would need to know exactly what happened," Aaspõllu said.

"Perhaps there was human error, a box that was not ticked, or perhaps the equipment malfunctioned. We have seen all manner of things happen," Vedler added.

Aaspõllu remarked that failure to describe the system could be tied to insurance claims.

"It sometimes seems to me that this unwillingness to say what should have happened, that could include hints as to what did happen, could have something to do with insurance. I'm sure hopes are on the insurance provider, seeing as there were €3 million worth of vaccines and medicines there. I cannot imagine the insurance policy on something like that or based on which aspects the insurance company could refuse to pay. /.../ There might be partial liability and details kept in the dark until the matter is cleared up. Which is unfortunate, as all of it is happening on our dime and we have paid for those vaccine doses and medicines," the ERR journalist reasoned.

The matter of responsibility?

Major dailies have urged Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center Party) to resign in the wake of the scandal. The hosts of "Rahva teenrid" disagreed.

"At the end of the day, the minister is, of course, responsible for their administrative area, while in this case, based on how the chain of command works at the agency and whether it worked, immediate responsibility lies with its director. I believe that demanding the minister's resignation over this particular incident is perhaps going too far," Kook said.

"As concerns the work of the Health Board, that is the responsibility of Üllar Lanno. He has reason to look in the mirror," Kook added.

Vedler said that the matter of resignation is part of political culture.

"He is responsible at the end of the day, while the question is whether he wants to resign. I cannot provide a recommendation either way," Vedler said, adding that Üllar Lanno has also suggested he is willing to take responsibility.

Vedler warned against repeating last summer's mistake. "If we are to go down the path of punishment, let us recall how Merike Jürilo was ousted from the Health Board last year, also in the summer. The board was without a director for a long time and preparations for the second wave were perhaps insufficient. Having a temporary deputy in place of a leader meant to take full responsibility is not a good situation. And the process of finding that leader was quite painful. No good candidates appeared before Lanno was invited to step in," he said.

"Therefore, before we demand his resignation and throw him out, we would need to find the person to take over. Otherwise, we will have a repeat of last year. And there will be a third wave," Vedler added.

Aaspõllu said that the cold storage incident cannot be held against either Kiik or Lanno. "We can criticize Lanno for a plethora of things, while I would pin this matter on neither Kiik nor Lanno. Because while the executive is responsible, not everything can be controlled," he said.

Kook noted that property manager State Real Estate Ltd. (RKAS) could also have a hand in what happened. "The question now is that if we know the warehouse was problematic during the previous director's term, how come no conclusions were drawn? RKAS has a role in this. A lot of state agencies, including the Health Board, use RKAS properties. The agency has been rather vague in its statements so far," Kook said.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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