9/11 health company slow to treat workers

September 8, 2008 10:05:33 AM PDT
A company run by an ex-Bush administration official and hired by the government to provide medical care to Sept. 11 recovery workers has been slow to take up the job, workers and advocates say.Tommy Thompson was the Health and Human Services secretary for four years, and now is president of Logistics Health, Inc., which in June won an $11 million contract to treat Sept. 11 workers and volunteers who now live far away from the New York-area hospitals treating the bulk of ground zero patients.

Some patients are complaining that two months since the handover, they have yet to hear from Thompson's firm, which is based in La Crosse, Wis.

"I have absolutely no help from anybody," said Ed Persico of Missoula, Mont., who was a Red Cross volunteer at a New York City landfill where the ground zero debris was examined for human remains.

"I went to get my asthma inhaler prescription filled and I couldn't get it filled because they said they switched programs. I keep calling them, and they tell me I'm supposed to get another medical ID card in another four to six weeks," said Persico.

Persico is one of approximately 450 workers and volunteers across the United States who are believed to have been made ill by exposure to toxic debris from the fallen World Trade Center towers.

New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Manhattan Democrat, on Monday said Thompson "stood in the way of helping 9/11 responders" when he was the health secretary, and is not doing any better as president of LHI.

Maloney also faulted Dr. Julie Gerberding, the head of the Centers for Disease Control, for not taking a firmer role on the issue.

A CDC spokeswoman referred all questions to LHI. Officials at the company declined to say anything about the status of their work, and Logistics Health's director of marketing, Tracey Armstrong, referred questions back to the government.

While taxpayer dollars have helped care for thousands of recovery workers living in the New York City area, the government has struggled to provide treatment for the hundreds of people beyond New York.

"There just wasn't enough time for the handover. It wouldn't have mattered if it was LHI or anybody else," said Katherine Kirkland, executive director of the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics, the group that had been overseeing the national program before LHI.

Part of the problem, according to experts, is that the nation's strict health privacy laws make it difficult to transfer a patient database, meaning any handover of patient care takes time and resources to reach out to individual patients. Another potential difficulty arises in cases like Persico's, where he is the only person in his entire state in need of such care.

"It's a very small, very scattered population, and it's very work intensive," said Kirkland.

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