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Commissioners discuss “medical freedom” amid search for new health director

By Leah Craig

Public commentary at the Livingston County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night centered around the search for a new Director of Health.

Current director and Health Officer Dianne McCormick is set to retire at the beginning of July, and a mere two weeks prior to her departure, the Board of Commissioners continues to debate her replacement. McCormick has recommended her deputy, Matt Bolang, to fill the position.

A principal talking point throughout the meeting was the concept of medical freedom, an ideology that has become synonymous with the anti-mask and anti-vaccine movement.

One speaker, who identified herself as Dawn Smith of Brighton Township, said she is an RN in Detroit specializing in ICU and cardiovascular care. Smith used her experience as a platform to promote medical freedom, asserting that vaccines are a primary cause of cardiovascular problems, such as myocarditis, in children. 

This statement is directly contradicted by the Chief of Pediatric Cardiology at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, who noted that myocarditis has been found to be a result of SARS-CoV-2. Between March 2020 and January 2021, the CDC determined that patients with COVID-19 had nearly 16 times the risk for myocarditis as compared to those who didn’t.

“If we’re gonna have a health director, somebody calling the shots for Livingston County, with the power to lock schools down, to force unnecessary mandates,” said Bill Reiber of Genoa Township, “That’s not the person I want in charge of the medical field. It’s not a political thing. It’s about freedom.”

While most people would agree that the health and well-being of Livingston County shouldn’t be a political matter, for a variety of factors, they have become inextricably linked. 

Although many speakers spoke of the Constitution and associated it with medical freedom, health is not a topic outlined in either state or federal documents, nor has the Supreme Court ever interpreted the text as vouchsafing freedom of or access to health care. Smith, Reiber, and many more urged the Board of Commissioners to partake in a thorough and comprehensive search for a qualified candidate.

But while some saw this as an opportunity to emphasize their views and decry the perceived wrongdoings of McCormick’s tenure, others redirected the commentary to the qualifications of McCormick’s recommended successor.

Brian Jonckheere, the Livingston County Drain Commissioner, has worked closely with the health department and spoke highly of Bolang, praising his dedication, integrity, and capability.

“In terms of getting the best person, it’s important that that person have a vested interest in this county,” Jonckheere said. “The fact that there is a call for the health director to be predisposed to one political agenda over the other, that is absolutely what we don’t want in this position.”

Sheriff Mike Murphy confessed he didn’t expect to agree with Jonckheere, but also spoke on behalf of Bolang. Murphy was quick to address those who spoke of mandates and orders, noting that the Livingston County Health Department never issued such directives, nor did it directly implement or enforce these policies during any phase of the pandemic.

In addition, Sheriff Murphy also spoke to those who sought to discredit Bolang and his service to the community.

“To tie Matt to Dianne is a bit disingenuous, Matt is his own person… and I think he would carry on our health department in great fashion,” said Murphy.

Chair of the Board Wes Nakagiri emphasized that the board should conduct an “exhaustive search”, a proposal supported by Commissioners Jay Drick and Brenda Plank.

“I think we stand a better chance of pushing back against state or CDC guidelines with somebody who has better clinical experience,” Nakagiri elaborated. He went on to state that he was hoping to find a candidate with a Master’s Degree in Public Health and someone who was “at the forefront of medical freedom.”

The remaining five of the eight Commissioners present spoke in support of Bolang. Commissioner Jay Gross disclosed that Bolang has “met or exceeded every expectation that’s been dictated to him by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.”

Brenda Plank, Commissioner for Green Oak and parts of Brighton Township, said she didn’t initially support the idea of electing Bolang to the position, but was impacted by Sheriff Murphy’s earlier comments. While she personally believes in the concept of medical freedom and would like to see it reflected in county policy, Plank admitted that she didn’t know Bolang well enough to know where he stood on the matter. She added that she’d like to see where he stands, how he responds to different scenarios, but that overall the positive recommendations from high-ranking county officials made her optimistic that Bolang would be a good fit for the position.

The Livingston County Board of Commissioners will meet again on June 27th.


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