The Queens facility treating more than 5,000 first responders at Ground Zero will be moving early next year from Flushing to Rego Park.
Funding is through the Zadroga Act, which provides more than $4 billion in federal dollars to address the health crisis caused by the World Trade Center tragedy.
In July, $3.85 million was awarded to LIJ Medical Center to partner with the Queens World Trade Center Clinical Center of Excellence, run for the last eight years by Queens College in a facility on the Horace Harding Expressway. Its chief Dr. Steven Markowitz, is co-directing the new effort with Dr. Jacqueline Moline, vice president and chairwoman of population health at the North Shore-LIJ Health System.
She previously served as director of the largest WTC medical monitoring and treatment program at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan. There are five clinical centers in the metropolitan area that examine, monitor, diagnose and treat firefighters and others who worked in Ground Zero and inhaled the “toxic mix” physicians now say was in the air from the destroyed towers.
In an interview with the Queens Chronicle, Moline said partnering with the Queens College center will provide increased access to medical and mental health programs. “We merged because the program needs to be affiliated with a medical institution,” she added.
The new Rego Park facility will be near parking and public transportation and will be larger than the Flushing site. Moline would not give the address because details are still being worked out.
Although health conditions vary, most of the first responders suffer from throat and sinus problems, acid reflux, lung and upper airway problems and mental health issues, including post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. Asthma is particularly high among patients, too.
The director says patients come once a year for monitoring and more often if treatment is necessary. “Some are medically managed, some have gotten better and some worse,” Moline said.
Mental health services will now be handled through the Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, one of the specialty hospitals within the North Shore-LIJ system. “This is a real bonus for the program,” Moline said.
She noted that post traumatic stress disorder can happen two years after a major incident, but that 18 months is the most common time frame. Moline added that through the use of drugs and counseling, first responder patients can become fully functional.
She believes clinicians will see more diseases in first responders in the future, including cancer and scarring of the lungs. Currently, federal guidelines prohibit the use of funds for cancer patients because officials say there has not been enough documentation to prove the connection with 9/11.
But Moline strongly believes cancer should be part of the medical surveillance program. “I’m not surprised that cancer is turning up in responders because the disease takes many years to develop,” she said. “So many toxic substances were absorbed.”
The doctor thinks documentation will show cancer rates higher and or sooner among first responders than the general population. “The information will speak for itself,” Moline said.
Last week, the first major documented evidence was published in The Lancet, a medical magazine, in research done by the head FDNY doctor. It showed that firefighters who worked at Ground Zero are 19 percent more likely to have melanoma, thyroid and prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer than those firefighters who did not work there.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens), who was one of the authors of the Zadroga Act has been pushing for funding for first responder cancer patients. She urged Dr. John Howard, the 9/11 federal health administrator, to consider “as soon as possible” adding coverage for the cancers discussed in The Lancet study.
Moline said the center continues to get new patients and those at risk should contact the facility at (718) 670-4174.