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Is Ontario’s patient ombudsman next on the Ford government chopping block?

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Ontario’s health minister Christine Elliott says she takes patient care seriously but won’t say whether her former job —Ontario’s patient ombudsman — will be kept or cut by her government.

Elliott quit the high-paying job in February when she decided to run for the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party. She lost to Premier Doug Ford but won a seat in the June election and Ford tapped her to be deputy premier and health minister.

The Ford government has not appointed a new patient ombudsman to replace Elliott and the office is currently being led by its executive director Craig Thompson. There is speculation at the legislature that Ford does not intend to fill the vacancy. On the patient ombudsman website it says there are “no new job openings.”

Requests to interview Elliott about her former position and its fate were declined.

“Minister Elliott takes patient care very seriously,” a statement from press secretary Hayley Chazan said. It went on to blame the previous Liberal government for mismanaging Ontario’s health care system.

Office in limbo for months

Elliott’s office was asked repeatedly whether the Ford government is committed to keeping the position or if it is under review as part of its effort to cut costs. Her press secretary would not answer the question.

If Ford decides to scrap it, Elliott could find herself having to defend the elimination of her old job. 

“The office has been in limbo since February,” the NDP’s health critic France Gé​linas told CBC News. “The rumours circulating at Queen’s Park are that the office will be eliminated and the responsibility will go to the ombudsman.”

Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott recently made a health-care investment announcement together in Grimsby, Ont. Their offices declined to comment on the fate of the patient ombudsman, a job Elliott held before getting back into politics. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The Ford government recently announced it intended to shut down the offices of the French Language Services commissioner and the child advocate and shift their responsibilities to the Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé.

Gélinas said she has not heard anything official that Ford’s government is going to take the same direction with the patient ombudsman. 

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said the fact that Ford hasn’t appointed a new patient ombudsman yet is a signal the PC’s are considering cutting the role.

“I would think that given the move that they’ve taken to eliminate independent officers in the Legislature, that the patient ombudsman is at risk,” he told CBC News.

Fraser said he’s concerned the office is on the chopping block and he’d like to see it maintained.

“It’s important for people who are having difficulty accessing the care they need and they don’t know where to turn. The ombudsman and the staff do that every day,” he said.

The Liberals created the position when they were in power and the office launched in 2016 with Elliott, a former PC MPP at the time, at the helm.

The office responds to complaints from current or former patients, or their caregivers, about their experiences with the health-care system. It’s meant to be a last resort if patients and their health-care providers can’t resolve problems on their own. It can also undertake investigations and make recommendations to health care organizations.

Calls for more independence

The patient ombudsman is not an independent officer of the legislature, however. It falls under Health Quality Ontario — a government agency that monitors quality in health care and provides advice to government and health care providers.

Doris Grinspun, chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, said the position never should have been put under Health Quality Ontario.

Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli tables the government’s Fall Economic Statement at Queen’s Park in Toronto on November 15, 2018. Fedeli and Premier Doug Ford are looking to cut billions of dollars of spending to reduce the deficit. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

“It needs to be independent,” she told CBC News. Grinspun said Ford should make the patient ombudsman an independent officer of the legislature, and if not, then fold it into the general ombudsman’s office.

But the position should not be eliminated, she said.

“The public needs to have a point of contact to speak about health system experiences and improvements we need to do. We have a lot to learn from the public and at the end of the day they are the recipients of the care,” she said.

If Ford cuts the job completely, “a voice will be lost — the voice of the public,” Grinspun said.

The public has increasingly been using the office since it opened. In its first year it received 2,000 complaints and the following year it was up to 2,300. So far this year between July and October it’s taken in 850 complaints, a higher monthly average than the year before.

With the top job vacant, the office now has 17 staff which includes early resolution specialists, investigators and other staff. The operating budget is $3.7 million. When Elliott left the job she was earning $203,543.

Laura Williams, director of patient engagement at Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN), said her office has worked with the patient ombudsman office on multiple occasions to resolve complaints by patients in UHN’s care.

Outside perspective can help patients

It can be helpful to have people outside of the hospital walls take a look at a situation and provide a “unique lens,” she said.

“It is a collaborative process and gives us another opportunity to reflect and look at things from a different perspective.”

If the government does decide to keep the role but fold it into the broader ombudsman office, it won’t get any opposition from the NDP.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser says the patient ombudsman is an important and effective office and should not be eliminated. (CBC)

Gélinas said the patient ombudsman’s mandate is currently too limited and moving it into the overall ombudsman office would be a way to broaden it.

She said she’s confident the ombudsman would be able to absorb the patient ombudsman duties.

The Liberals don’t share that confidence.

“The ombudsman has a pretty broad mandate; when you start to fold things in, they become diminished as a priority,” said Fraser.

Ford’s office declined the opportunity to comment for this story.

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Post-vaccine surge? Michigan’s spring coronavirus case spike close to previous year’s autumn high

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(Natural News) The spike in new Wuhan coronavirus infections recorded in Michigan over the spring is similar to a spike seen during the 2020 fall season. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, the state’s daily coronavirus case count averaged more than 7,000 for almost two weeks – before taking a slight dip to 6,891 on April 20. This echoed similar figures back in November and December 2020, which saw sharp rises in infections for those two months before plunging.

Back in autumn of last year, Michigan averaged more than 7,000 cases per day for a span of 10 days. New infections dropped slightly, then briefly spiked as the December holidays approached. It then fell to the low 1,000s for the succeeding two months – until ascending again in March.

According to University of Michigan internal medicine professor Dr. Vikas Parekh, the sudden increase in new infections could be attributed to several factors. Among the factors he cited was re-openings, which increased people’s interactions and mobility. Parekh said the loosened restrictions contributed to the spread of the highly contagious U.K. B117 variant.

“As the B117 variant spreads nationally, we will likely see other stats [with] their own surges – although I hope none are as bad as Michigan,” the professor remarked. He continued: “The milestone just tells us we are not yet in the clear, especially as we still have large portions of our population who are not vaccinated yet.”

Parekh also expressed optimism over the lower daily caseloads the Great Lakes State reported. He said he believes both cases and hospitalizations have plateaued and will likely decline soon. The professor commented: “[COVID-19] positivity has been declining now for one week, which is usually a leading indicator of case decline.”

Meanwhile, the state cited younger populations and youth sports, such as basketball, wrestling and hockey, to increase new COVID-19 infections. Because of this, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called to suspend youth sports and indoor dining in the state. She also exhorted high schools to conduct remote class sessions for two weeks to curb the spread of the pathogen.

Michigan still experienced the spike in cases despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country

During the opening stages of the U.S.’s immunization drive against COVID-19, Michigan boasted of having one of the highest vaccination rates nationwide. A report by Bridge Michigan even noted the initial “frenzy for vaccines” that “far exceeded the state’s limited supply.” But things have appeared to turn around for Michigan, as it now struggles to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate needed for herd immunity.

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Scottish mom’s legs turn into a pair of “giant blisters” after first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine

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(Natural News) Sarah Beuckmann of Glasgow, Scotland, felt a tingling sensation in her legs and noticed a rash flaring up around her ankles a week after getting her first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine on March 18.

She also had flu-like symptoms right after the vaccination.

Beuckmann called her doctor to arrange an appointment the morning she noticed the rash, but by the afternoon her skin was already breaking out into blood-filled blisters. Blisters also appeared on her legs, hands, face, arms and bottom.

“I ended up asking my husband to take me to A&E,” said Beuckmann, referring to “accident and emergency,” the equivalent of an emergency room (ER). “When I got there, my heart rate was sitting at 160bpm, which they were very concerned about. I got put on an ECG machine.”

Doctors determine AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine triggers the rash

Medics carried out tests for HIV, herpes and other skin conditions to work out what triggered the rash, but all results came back negative. Doctors finally determined that the vaccine caused her rare reaction after carrying out two biopsies.

“Once they found that it was a reaction to the vaccine, they put me on steroids and that really seems to be helping my progress,” said Beuckmann. She had been advised by her doctor not to get the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine because of her reaction.

Beuckmann spent 16 days at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She was discharged to recover at home. The 34-year-old mother of one is currently wheelchair-bound due to the bandages on her legs and blisters on the soles of her feet. She may need physiotherapy to help strengthen her leg muscles.

“They are starting to heal and they’re looking a lot better than they were but as the blisters started to get worse, they all sort of merged together,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

With the blisters merging, her legs have looked like a pair of “giant blisters.” Beuckmann admitted that at one point she feared her legs might have to be amputated.

Dermatologist agrees COVID-19 vaccine causes the blisters

Dr. Emma Wedgeworth, a consultant dermatologist and spokeswoman at the British Skin Foundation, agreed that Beuckmann had likely suffered a reaction to the vaccine.

“Vaccines are designed to activate the immune system. Occasionally people will have quite dramatic activation of their immune systems which, as happened in this case, can manifest in their skin” Wedgeworth told MailOnline. “This poor lady had a very severe reaction, which thankfully is extremely rare.”

It is not clear why Beuckmann, who works in retail, was invited for a vaccine. Scotland’s vaccine rollout was focused on people over the age of 50 when she got vaccinated, although vaccines are available to those who are considered at risk from the virus, or live with someone considered vulnerable.

At least 20 million Briton have had AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which drug regulators say causes a rash in one percent of cases. They say rashes caused by the jab tend to go away within a week.

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Trojan labs? Chinese biotech company offers to build COVID testing labs in six states

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In 2012, BGI acquired Complete Genomics, a DNA sequencing company and equipment maker. The funds for the $117.6 million purchase were raised from Chinese venture capitals. The company has expanded its footprint globally. According to its website, BGI conducts business in more than 100 countries and areas and has 11 offices and labs in the U.S.

People are concerned about China’s access to American DNA data

Some said that with Complete Genomics providing an American base, BGI would have access to more DNA samples from Americans, helping it compile a huge database of genetic information. Some also worried about the protection of the genetic information’s privacy.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), BGI “has formed numerous partnerships with U.S. healthcare providers and research organizations to provide large-scale genetic sequencing to support medical research efforts,”

There are three main reasons why many people in the biotech community and government have expressed concerns about China’s access to American DNA data.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Evanina discussed the very likely scenario in which Chinese companies would be able to micro-target American individuals and offer customized preventative solutions based on their DNA.

Evanina asked: “Do we want to have another nation systematically eliminate our healthcare services? Are we okay with that as a nation?”

The second concern is that China may use DNA to track and attack American individuals. As the USCC report states: “China could target vulnerabilities in specific individuals brought to light by genomic data or health records. Individuals targeted in such attacks would likely be strategically identified persons, such as diplomats, politicians, high-ranking federal officials or military leadership.”

The third concern is that China may devise bioweapons to target non-Asians. Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, discussed it in his article “What Will China Do With Your DNA?” published by The Epoch Times in March 2019.

He wrote: “We know that the Asian genome is genetically distinct from the Caucasian and African in many ways. … Would it be possible to bioengineer a very virulent version of, say, smallpox, that was easily transmitted, fatal to other races, but to which the Chinese enjoyed a natural immunity? … Given our present ability to manipulate genomes, if such a bio-weapon can be imagined, it can probably – given enough time and resources – be realized.”

An article from Technocracy said: “China’s aggressive collection of American DNA should be doubly alarming because it can only spell one ultimate outcome: biowarfare. That is, genetically engineering viruses or other diseases that will be selectively harmful to U.S. populations.”

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