Queens residents who worked, lived or went to school in the vicinity of the Sept. 11 attacks, will be able to get healthcare closer to home at Elmhurst Hospital Center.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Thursday that Elmhurst, as well as Gouverneur Healthcare Services in Lower Manhattan, are being added to relieve the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center at Bellevue Hospital, also in Manhattan.
“There is much about World Trade Center health effects that we still don’t know, but one thing we do know is that 9/11 was an act of war against our entire country and the federal government must take responsibility for everyone whose health was harmed,” the mayor said.
Elmhurst Hospital Center will treat health problems caused by exposure to dust and smoke from the attack. The service will be available to all New Yorkers regardless of insurance or immigration status.
City Health and Hospitals Corp. President Alan Aviles noted that the expanded program will allow the city to bring comprehensive assessment and specialty treatment to those who have not yet gotten care for 9/11 maladies.
Those affected by the 9/11 attacks lived in Lower Manhattan or areas of Brooklyn; or went to school in the area; or worked in or near area offices, stores, schools or apartment buildings; or helped in the cleanup of buildings in the affected area.
It is expected that up to 20,000 people will utilize the three centers over the next five years. The city has allocated $33 million for the program. Currently, the Bellevue center has treated 1,600 patients.
Evaluation, treatment and most medications for WTC-related illnesses are provided free to those who qualify. Most of the health problems involve respiratory issues, including sinus, nasal and postnasal irritation, shortness of breath, asthma, wheezing, persistent coughing and throat irritation. Other problems are heartburn, indigestion or reflux, severe headaches, skin rashes or irritation, anxiety and nervousness.
Congressman Joseph Crowley of Jackson Heights, who lost a fireman cousin in the 9/11 attack, applauded the mayor for expanding the healthcare program. “This common sense decision will allow Queens residents who are suffering to receive care locally rather than having to travel to Manhattan.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who represents part of western Queens as well as Manhattan, added: “Our nation has a moral obligation to extend health monitoring to everyone exposed to Ground Zero toxins and treatment to anyone who is sick, whether they’re a first responder, a Lower Manhattan resident, an area worker or a student at a nearby school.”
Residents who want to find out if they are eligible for services should call 311. For specific information about the Elmhurst Hospital site, call (718) 334-LUNG.
Hospital spokeswoman Georgia Viras noted that Elmhurst has treated 9/11 patients for the past five years and now would be able to do it in an expanded manner. Currently, the hospital treats 70 such individuals and expect to see an increase.
Dr. Irwin Berlin, chief of pulmonary care, will direct the program. He has been working since 2004 with immigrant day laborers, who helped in the Ground Zero cleanup. He used a trailer, equipped with an examining room, that traveled to two Queens sites to treat the workers. Many were undocumented, who were afraid to seek help.
At last week’s announcement, Bloomberg pushed for Congress to pass the James Zadroga Act, named after an NYPD detective who died at the age of 34 from respiratory failure due to work spent at Ground Zero. If passed, it wold provide federal funding needed for those who are sick or who may become sick.
Earlier this month, the city announced it was adding Fort Totten in Bayside as one of four new locations to treat active and retired members of the Fire Department with physical and mental health services. The other new locations are in Brentwood, L.I., and Middletown in Orange County.