The Queens World Trade Center Clinical Center of Excellence cut the ribbon in its new facility on Monday.
The center, which specifically treats first responders to the WTC attack on September 11, 2001, has moved from Flushing to a larger space in Rego Park.
“Our center’s new space will allow us to better provide the needed care for our patients and increase our services as the program continues to expand,” Jacqueline Moline, MD, the center’s director, and vice president and chair of population health at the North Shore-LIJ Health System. “The people we treat have very specific needs both mentally and physically and having a separate program where the doctors, the nurses and the receptionists have a better idea of what first responders have gone through is naturally going to be beneficial to our patients.”
The center received $3.85 million under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides more than $4 billion to address the health tragedies of September 11. Clinicians at the LIJ center provide care to more than 3,00 WTC responders.
The event was held in the center’s waiting room where Moline, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, retired NYPD officer and first responder Lorelei Sander and others spoke openly on the benefits the new space will have on the area.
Sander, who in Sept. 2001, was hospitalized for 12 days for breathing problems, said the treatment she has received from the Clinical Center of Excellence has greatly improved her overall health
“For the first time, I can honestly say that my health has improved and now I have quality of life,” Sander said. “My cough is nearly nonexistent, my GERD [gastroesophageal reflux disease] is under control and my sinuses have improved.”
The orginal location for the center, in Flushing, proved to be too cramped and difficult to get to for many patients. Other patients had to go into Manhattan to seek treatment.
“This is located close to home when before I had to go to Mt. Sinai in Manhattan and the traveling was getting expensive and took up a lot of time,” Sander, who retired in 2004, said. “Here it’s smaller and more personal and that is also a big benefit. The fact is that you don’t feel rushed here. The doctors can give me the time I wouldn’t have sought out on my own.”
Martin Grillo arrived at the WTC just after the second tower fell and worked at Ground Zero until Jan. 2012. A majority of his work involved carrying equipment and blankets, water and supplies; getting Nextels out to everybody was also something he did.
In 2007, Grillo developed breathing issues.
“I kind of self-diagnosed myself,” he said, “I knew something was not right and so I figured I better get it checked out right away.”
Grillo started seeking help in the orginal center in Flushing He suffered from GERD, asthma and sleep apnea, but said the people at this center have provided him with great services.
One of the most common issues first responders are having is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“There are people to this day that cannot go into Manhattan,” Marshall said. “The images that these individuals saw will stay with them forever.”
“They have excellent services here, really, truly excellent,” she said. “And I like that with the mental health, they don’t force you to do anything. When you come in for your appointments, the doctor will ask you if you would like to talk to somebody and you can if you want to, but you’re never forced.”
Grillo, who still works part-time as an EMT, is a resident of Howard Beach, an area greatly affected by Superstorm Sandy. He says that the storm destroyed his home but before he could worry about rebuilding, he wanted to make sure his neighbors were safe.
“That’s just my personality,” he said. “I want to make sure everyone is good before I worry about myself.”
The new facility also offers more exam rooms, which Moline says makes a huge difference.
“We’re going from three exam rooms to four exam rooms, and that allows us to really flow and makes everything feel less cramped,” she said.
Since the attacks, more than 50 cancers associated with inhaling the toxic fumes at Ground Zero have been discovered. Other serious health problems plaguing first responders include lung disease, asthma and gastroesphogeal disease.
“The additional space in the relocated Queens QWTC Clinical Center of Excellence will help to continue and expand the noble effort to provide the programs and services needed by those who served so bravely and selflessly on 9/11,” said Marshall. “The federal funds allocated for this new center will help to let those who responded and put themselves in danger to know that they will never be forgotten. Their physical, emotional and mental well-being depends greatly on our ability to link them with the services the so richly deserve.”
After speeches, Molaine and Sander helped cut the ribbon, officially opening the center.
The Queens WTC Clincical Center of Excellence is one of seven clinical centers of excellence in the New York/New Jersey area that provides medical monitoring, diagnosis and treatment for WTC-related health conditions.
The program is administered by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.