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Mad cow disease found in one Central Valley bovine


Cattle

Cattle (Photo credit: CameliaTWU)

Health officials say the diseased cow never entered the human food chain and U.S. dairy and beef products are safe. It is the first confirmed case in the U.S. since 2006.

The first confirmed case of mad cow disease in the U.S. since 2006 surfaced in California’s Central Valley on Tuesday, triggering concerns about food safety. But health officials stressed that the diseased animal never entered the human food chain and that U.S. beef and dairy products are safe.

Co-founder of the Parachute Club dies of lung cancer


Parachute Club‘s Billy Bryans dies at 63 of lung cancer.

Ont. health agency scrutinized for contract tendering practices


Ont. health agency scrutinized for contract tendering practices

‘Taxpayers are really getting ripped off’: PC leader

An Ontario health agency has doled out nearly $5 million in contracts without any apparent attempt to open up the deals to outside bidders, documents obtained by CBC News show.

EHealth Ontario has come under scrutiny for its spending practices. (CBC)Contracts valued at about $4.8 million were signed off by eHealth Ontario’s CEO and president, Sarah Kramer, during the first four months of the newly formed agency’s operation, according to documents obtained by the Progressive Conservative party through a freedom of information request.

A letter regarding the request states that no procurement documents for consultant services were located “because none were created.”

EHealth was quietly set up eight months ago by the Liberal government, with the merger of the e-health program at the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care and Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA), an agency once mired in questions over its own operations.

The agency is tasked with developing a digital record system by 2015 to allow health-care providers to electronically share patient information to prevent medical errors and reduce costs.

Kramer defended her organization’s procurement policy, saying the quick transition period and the amount of money being invested in eHealth justified single-sourcing the contracts in many cases.

“It is appropriate and it’s under most policies in public and private sector to bring in sole-source vendors when you need to do something very quickly and you need some specialized services,” Kramer said.

A procurement expert said contracts should be open to competition unless they involve legal services, an urgent circumstance or a patented product unique to a single supplier.

Examples of some of the most lucrative contracts handed out during the first months of eHealth’s operation were $915,160 to health-care consulting firm Courtyard Group, and two contracts in a single day to Accenture Inc. that topped $1 million.

All but one of the listed consulting contracts surpassed $100,000, the cutoff at which provincial agencies are required to put a contract out to tender in order to ensure a fair and open playing field for companies.

No evidence has been found that the contracts were tendered on Merx, Ontario’s designated website for such government agreements.

Kramer’s spending

Hiring outside consultants also would allow eHealth Ontario to skirt the so-called “sunshine law” that requires provincial agencies to publicize the names of employees with salaries of $100,000 or more.

Sarah Kramer is the CEO and president of eHealth Ontario. Sarah Kramer is the CEO and president of eHealth Ontario. (CNW Group/eHealth Ontario)The agency already employed 164 people whose annual salary topped $100,000 in 2008, according to its website.

Documents show Kramer earns a base salary of $380,000 and received a $114,000 bonus in March, about five months after her start date.

The next month, Kramer announced in a memo that the company was cutting back on employee bonuses.

“After considerable discussion, we have decided to proceed with merit and bonus payouts, but scale them back to reflect current economic realities and the organization’s performance this past year,” the memo states.

Receipts also show Kramer spent at least $800 on limousine rides, including one priced at $408 from her home to London, Ont., and a couple in Boston.

Kramer came under scrutiny for her expenditures in early April when opposition parties complained about the $51,500 she spent on her new office furniture, a cost defended by Health Minister David Caplan as a startup cost typical to new agencies.

Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter has been probing spending at eHealth and its predecessor, SSHA, since late last year. His findings are scheduled to be published in his annual report this December.

Interim PC Leader Bob Runciman called for the health minister to explain the apparent lack of competitive bidding for the projects and called the expenses upsetting given the economic downturn.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s all sorts of problems with this agency where taxpayers are really being — I think it’s not going overboard to say — getting ripped off by this agency and their practices,” Runciman said.

Alberta consultants flown in

Spending at eHealth and its predecessor swelled to more than $800 million in the past six years, while the date for release of its electronic patient health records has been pushed back three years to 2015.

SSHA was blasted in January 2007 when an operational review done by Deloitte Consulting said it lacked a strategic plan, had a poor reputation among the health-care community it was supposed to serve and was not being held accountable by Queen’s Park.

Set up in 2002, SSHA also struggled to move away from a dependence on consultants. A 2004-2005 annual report documents “intense” efforts to reduce reliance on consultants by doubling permanent staff.

Media reports suggest SSHA spent about an average of 17 per cent of its budget each year on consultants.

Also, two of eHealth’s consultants — Allaudin Merali and Donna Strating — are listed as senior vice-presidents on the agency’s website but live in Alberta, with their regular commute into Ontario funded by taxpayer dollars.

Documents released Wednesday show each charges about $2,700 a day for their services. The two also bill the agency for regular flights, accommodation in Toronto plus a per diem for meals and other costs. Among the receipts are two $3.26 bills for a muffin and can of pop.

The total cost for the two amounts to about $1.5 million a year.

EHealth’s CEO defended the costs of flying two consultants in, saying Alberta has the “best record in eHealth in the country.”

“They’ve come in and really helped us get back on board and start moving forward. So we’re paying market rates for people who are the best and the brightest in the business,” Kramer said.

Close ties

Questions are also being raised about a further $1 million in apparently untendered contracts awarded in the early months of the agency’s transition to Courtyard Group, on top of the single $915,160 deal.

Michael Guerriere, a managing partner of Courtyard Group, was also named as eHealth’s interim senior vice-president of strategy at one point, and billed more than $3,000 a day as a consultant.

Guerriere’s wife, Miyo Yamashita, heads another firm, Anzen Consulting, that benefited from more than $300,000 in eHealth contracts.

Yamashita charged about $300 an hour for communications advice and services that included:

  • Reading New York Times articles on diabetes and electronic health records from her husband.
  • Reviewing Kramer’s holiday voicemail greeting and confirming details for a seasonal party.
  • Debriefing during a chat on the subway.

If you have information on this story, send an email to yournews@cbc.ca.

Read more….


Congrats to Tracy Moore – Named New CityLine


Tracy Moore Named New CityLine Host

Tracy Moore Named New CityLine Host

Friday October 17, 2008

It’s one of the most popular shows in Canada and an institution at Citytv.

CityLine has been on the air for 24 years and was the original TV show that put the spotlight on design, food, gardening, health, fashion, beauty and other items of interest to domestic goddesses everywhere.

Now there are entire networks devoted to the subject. But a quarter of a century ago, this show was  unique. And it remains that way to this day.

Part of that success has always been attributed to the hosts who guided viewers through the ins-and-outs of homemaking and style. In the early years, that was the legendary Dini Petty. And for 19 of those seasons, it was the remarkable Marilyn Denis.

But after she left the show in May, there was a big question mark: who could possibly replace the irreplaceable?

After trying out a series of co-hosts over the summer and early fall, we can finally answer that question – and it’s someone you know very well.

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Two Cases of E.Coli in Chatham-Kent Linked to U.S. Outbreak


Dr. David Williams, Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health is issuing a public alert about two E. coli O157:H7 cases that are thought to be linked to iceberg lettuce that has been distributed in Ontario.

Test results show that two cases in Chatham-Kent are of the same strain of E. coli O157:H7 identified in 38 cases in the United States. All of the cases are thought to be linked to shredded iceberg lettuce distributed by Aunt Mid’s Produce Company. This product is distributed in five pound industrial bags to institutions such as hospitals and long-term care homes, as well as restaurants in southwestern Ontario.

Due to the potential risks associated with this product, all public health units have been asked to:

* Contact all hospitals, long-term care homes and other institutions to verify if the product has been used in the last month and to place any remaining product on hold.
* Send any unopened packages to the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s Central Public Health Lab for testing.
* Instruct all hospitals and institutions to stop all use of this product until further notice.

In addition, public health units in southwestern Ontario are contacting specific restaurants that may have received the product and asking them to place it on hold.

The lettuce was last distributed in Ontario on September 26, 2008. Since the product has a 12-day shelf-life it could still be in use.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is working with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on this investigation.

E. coli O157:H7 may cause serious gastroenteritis, most often with symptoms of diarrhea, and often accompanied by other symptoms including vomiting, and dehydration. The main concern with E. coli O157:H7 diarrhea is that approximately two-to-seven percent of individuals develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). HUS is a life threatening disease of the kidneys and circulatory system that requires extensive medical treatment. The individuals usually affected are children under five years of age and the elderly.

Media Contact :

Mark Nesbitt, 416-314-6197
Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
ontario.ca/health-news

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Minister forced to apologize for ‘tasteless’ listeria jokes – Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz


TONDA MACCHARLES
OTTAWA BUREAU
SAGUENAY, QUE.–Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was forced to apologize yesterday for “tasteless and completely inappropriate” jokes on an Aug. 30 government conference call during the listeriosis crisis.

“This is like a death by a thousand cuts. Or should I say cold cuts,” Ritz quipped after fretting about the political dangers of the crisis.

And when told during the conference call about a new death in Prince Edward Island, Ritz remarked: “Please tell me it’s Wayne Easter.”

Easter, the Liberal MP for the P.E.I. riding of Malpeque, is his party’s critic shadowing Ritz’s Agriculture Department.

The Canadian Press reported the comments last night, citing sources who took notes during the call.

So far, 17 deaths, including 14 in Ontario, have been linked to the listeriosis outbreak, which sparked a massive recall of food products from a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto.

The plant where the listeria bacterium was found embedded deep inside slicing equipment was closed Aug. 20 and reopened yesterday.

Listeriosis causes high fever, headache, neck stiffness and nausea that is of particular concern to the elderly, pregnant women and the infirm.

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Ontario Listeriosis Update August 22, 2008


Listeriosis

Listeriosis

Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health reported today that two additional deaths have been confirmed to be directly caused by the listeriosis outbreak. This brings the total number of deaths to three.Outbreak associated cases of Listeriosis have also been reported in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Quebec.

QUOTES

“We will continue to monitor the situation very closely,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “I would like to remind the public, especially those at high risk for Listeriosis, such as the elderly, pregnant women and those with weak immune systems, to avoid consuming any meats connected with the CFIA recall. If in doubt – throw it out.”
QUICK FACTS

* Listeriosis is a reportable disease under Ontario Regulation 569 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act;
* The incubation period for Listeriosis is from three to seventy days with an average incubation period of three weeks.

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IMPORTANT UPDATE:

August 25, 2008

NEWS

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s listeriosis update, as of Monday, August 25, 2008.

The local public health units have been asked to check their local hospitals, long-term care homes and daycares to ensure that any products from the Toronto Maple Leaf plant have been removed and are not being consumed. In addition, they have also been advised to check for recalled products at key retail outlet locations.

Last Friday, the public health units were asked to check the smaller stores, mom-and-pop shops that may not have heard of the recall.

QUOTES

“I would like to remind the public to check their refrigerators and ensure that any products related to the food recall are thrown out,” said Dr David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health.

LEARN MORE

For an up-to-date list on this recall and other CFIA consumer food recalls online

Find out more about Listeriosis online

Contact your local public health unit.

For public inquires call ServiceOntario, INFOline at 1-866-532-3161 (Toll-free in Ontario only) Members of the media :

Mark Nesbitt, 416-314-6197
Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
ontario.ca/health-news

Sheela Basrur, the cool voice of reason during 2003 SARS crisis, dead at 51


PREMIER DALTON MCGUINTY ON THE PASSING OF DR. SHEELA BASRUR

“I was deeply saddened when I heard today of the passing of Dr. Sheela Basrur. She was a remarkable woman and her passion for public service is what made her such an extraordinary Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario. “

——————–

Dr. Sheela Basrur, a public health figure whose skilful leadership and communications expertise helped guide Canada through Toronto’s SARS crisis in 2003, died Monday after a 17-month battle with a rare form of cancer.

Basrur, 51, had stepped down as Ontario’s chief medical officer of health in December 2006 when she learned she was suffering from leiomyosarcoma, a diagnosis for which the prognosis was poor.

Many of her friends, colleagues and admirers fought back tears as they paid tribute to a diminutive woman with a big brain, a big heart and a quick smile.

“It was obviously at one level expected and inevitable, given what she was dealing with. But it’s too soon, too young and a huge loss, not just to public health but far much more in the country,” Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s chief public health officer, said from Halifax.

Born in 1956, Basrur was raised in a professional family.

Her father is a radiation oncologist at the Kitchener, Ont., hospital where Basrur died. Her mother is a professor at the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.

Divorced, she had one child – a daughter, Simone Koves, who is now 17.

A private funeral will be held, according to family spokesperson Sujit Choudry. A public memorial to mark Basrur’s life and professional contribution will follow.

But some of that recognition started to flow before her death. In April, at a ceremony Basrur was well enough to attend, the provincial government announced it would name Ontario’s new arms-length public health agency the Sheela Basrur Centre.

People for whom she worked and who worked for and with her described a woman able to quickly grasp the big picture, a leader who easily marshalled and motivated troops, and a person whose keen sense of humour was ever at the ready.

“She was one of those people who can take the information and understand the implications of it and be able to convey that to people in a way that they understand,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, a friend who also served as an associate medical officer of health in Toronto during Basrur’s tenure as medical officer of health for the city.

“To me, her greatest skill was being a passionate and very good communicator with people.”

Henry, who now works at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, often marvelled at Basrur’s easy turns of phrase.

“I used to ask her if she practised those – ‘We’re fighting the fire while we’re building the bucket,”‘ Henry chuckled, quoting a famous Basrur description of what it was like trying to contain SARS with antiquated disease surveillance tools. “She’d just come up with these things.”

After Basrur emerged as a rising star of public health during the 2003 SARS crisis, Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman lured her from Toronto Public Health to serve as Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.

“The day that Sheela Basrur said she was going to come to the province of Ontario and help to champion the renewal of public health, the bounce was the kind that only a very, very small group of leaders is able to accomplish,” Smitherman said in an interview.

That move, in 2004, sent a message to public health professionals throughout the province that things were looking up for their long-neglected field, Smitherman said. “That’s the Sheela Basrur effect.”

The two worked closely together as Ontario moved to enact the Smoke Free Ontario Act, which banned smoking in enclosed work places and public spaces across the province.

“Her determination and always a sense of joyfulness even when the sledding was really very difficult – that’s what I’ll remember the most. That woman was determined and forceful and powerful, in such a tiny little package,” he said.

Getting people to do what was necessary was another of Basrur’s highly honed skills. Saying no to Sheela Basrur just wasn’t something people in public health wanted to do.

“You can’t. It was impossible,” said Dr. Donald Low, who along with Basrur became a household name during the SARS crisis.

After taking on the job with the province, Basrur called Low, head of microbiology at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, to a meeting to talk about the problems plaguing the provincial public health laboratory network, which was perennially short of staff and unable to attract a medical director.

“I was telling her what the problems were and by the time I left the office I took the job,” Low said. “You really couldn’t say no.”

Liz Janzen, who worked under Basrur as a director of healthy living at Toronto Public Health, knows that feeling.

“She would kind of look at you with those big eyes and you’d go ‘OK, all right, yes, I think I can do that,”‘ an emotional Janzen said.

Basrur championed health promotion, Janzen said, going to bat for parts of public health that typically get little attention.

“So although she had her hands full with DineSafe (a restaurant inspection program) and TB outbreaks and communicable disease outbreaks, she also was a very strong proponent of health promotion in general and in particular working with children and women and vulnerable populations in the community,” Janzen said.

“She was very much there.”

But it was her role in the SARS crisis which showed the world the steel in Sheela Basrur’s spine.

Calm and composed in a time of chaos, she earned the respect of all those who worked with her or watched her on TV.

“Her unique ability to distill complex medical issues at a time of distress brought much needed reassurance to the Canadian and international communities,” Federal Health Minister Tony Clement – who was the provincial health minister at the time – said in a statement.

Dr. Jim Young was Ontario’s head of emergency preparedness when SARS hit. Working with people during a crisis really shows you what they are made of, said Young, who has worked through many in his career.

“You get to assess people as they really are. And they didn’t come any better than Sheela.”

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Will private Healthcare work in Canada?


I still say “NO”! The main argument for permitting a two tier private alternative system is that this would cause better overall access to care and relieve pressure on the public system. The problem with this argument is that there is no data to truly support this, especially for a country like Canada.  Albeit I am open to a discussion on the matter. There are a lot of ethical questions on both sides that need to be answered. The obvious advantage would be to those who could afford to pay or to purchase additional private health care insurance. In reality the major effect of allowing a private option would be to move resources from the public system into the private system, causing weakening of public system access. No matter how much advocates try to say otherwise, the result is clear. There is no doubt that there are issues surrounding access to public health care in general, however, going down the line of privatization will not help the majority of Canadians. There must be a better way!