All eyes were on former director of Taipei City Bureau of Health Yeh Chin-chuan (葉金川) when he entered Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital on 27 April in a bid to control a cross-infection of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
He caught the glare of the media's spotlight at a time when several runaway Hoping medical staff were still at large and quarantined hospital employees and patients were panicking in the face of the health authority's decision to seal the hospital on May 24.
"Hoping staff first appealed to me for help on April 26," Yeh said. "Then both Director of Taipei City Bureau of Health Chiu Shu-ti (邱淑媞) and Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) contacted me for assistance."
"After I received the requests from the three sides, I decided to go into Hoping Hospital," he said.
Yeh went into the hospital as a counselor for Taipei City Government, a semi-official representative from the government to coordinate and look over various issues within the hospital.
Three experts from US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (USCDC) accompanied Yeh into the hospital. The experts were there to evaluate and control the cross-infection inside.
"When I first got in there, I was shocked," Yeh said. "It was horrible. Everyone was inexperienced and it was a mess."
"Then I started to follow the instructions made by the USCDC experts to clean up the hospital. The local epidemic authority, professor Ho Mei-shang (
"Inside, my main responsibility lay in epidemic control, and I am only in charge of judgment and decision-making. I am not involved in execution," he said.
According to Yeh, he divided the Hoping personnel into eight groups, and he only communicated with the heads of these groups.
In an earlier TV interview, Yeh also commented on the situation within Hoping Hospital.
He said, "I saw the best and the worst of people in there. Some medical staff were so dedicated that they forgot to protect themselves when they were taking care of SARS patients"
"On the other hand, some tried hard to escape from getting into contact with the patients," he said.
However, according to Yeh, both were incorrect behavior. The medical staff should always protect themselves before treating the patients, Yeh said.
Yeh originally planned to leave Hoping on May 3 to be quarantined in the Civil Service Training Center for 14 days before going home.
He did leave, but was called back on the same day because the hospital superintendent Wu Kang-wen (吳康文) fell ill.
Yeh said that if nothing goes wrong, he will leave for good on May 5.
When asked about the possibility of a SARS outbreak in the community, Yeh said, "SARS will break out in the community. That is why I said to Taipei City Government that I would take care of Hoping so that they could concentrate on the fight in the community."
Yeh's courage has earned him widespread respect.
A graduate of National Taiwan University School of Medicine, Yeh also obtained a master's degree from National Taiwan University Graduate School of Public Health, and another from Harvard in the same field.
Yeh spent most of his career in the administrative side of the medical system. He was the deputy director-general of the Department of Health becoming the first CEO of the Bureau of National Health Insurance. Later on he took over the Taipei City Bureau of Health when Ma was elected mayor.