As Advocates Fight for Renewal of 9/11 Health Act, New Medical Accounts of 9/11 Responders Reveal Complex Illnesses and Need for Continued Care
New York, NY— On the 14th anniversary of 9/11, The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) in collaboration with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, released “Health and Hardship: Untold Stories from 9/11’s Unsung Heroes.” The report is a compilation of first-person accounts from 9/11 responders who recall their experiences and later managing their WTC-related health conditions. Each story is accompanied by medical commentary from medical providers at Mount Sinai, detailing one specific 9/11-related condition that the responder is enduring. The eight responders interviewed are patients at Mount Sinai’s Clinical Center of Excellence in the WTC Health Program. The report brings to light:
The complex, evolving nature of 9/11 illnesses that highlights the need for long-term research and continued care.
The need for the reauthorization of the Zadroga Act to make health care permanent for responders, survivors, and volunteers of 9/11.
The importance of providing protections for responders in potential future disasters.
Responders and survivors are currently being treated in the World Trade Center Health Program for approximately 100 illnesses related to exposures from the 9/11 disaster. Highlighted in this report are: asthma; cancer; chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD); mental health conditions: panic disorder, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, mild and moderate depression, post-traumatic stress disorder; musculoskeletal injuries; obstructive sleep apnea; chronic sinusitis and chronic rhinitis.
Lee Clarke, NYCOSH Board Chair and Assistant to the President at Local 1549 DC 37, AFSCME, said, “Post-traumatic stress disorder and conditions like chronic asthma and insomnia and various degenerative conditions are evolving and it’s so important that people exposed to the traumatic event and hazardous cocktail at Ground Zero have access to the care they need.”
Dr. Ismail Nabeel, Deputy Medical Director of the Mount Sinai Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health focuses on the monitoring and treatment of World Trade Center-related adverse health effects and said, “Most responders say they would take the same risks again if given the opportunity, and I don’t think the public is sufficiently aware of the selflessness in this population and the hardships they live with daily. This is a unique group of heroes that need very special health care and attention.”
An estimated 400,000 responders and survivors were exposed and currently, 72,395 responders and survivors are enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program, living across all 50 states. More than 11,000 new members have enrolled in the Program since the passage of the James Zadroga Act in 2011, with more enrolling each month.
While the report highlighted the need for current responders to continue to receive care, NYCOSH also stressed the importance of increased outreach to enroll responders, survivors, and volunteers who might have fallen through the cracks.
“Every day that we do outreach for the World Trade Center Health Program, we meet people who qualify for health benefits and have not yet enrolled. New Yorkers all know someone who was there and isn’t getting the care that they need. Reauthorization of Zadroga is a moral imperative, both for people currently in the Program, and for those that we haven’t yet reached,” said Charlene Obernauer, Executive Director at NYCOSH.
Joe McCauley, Responded as a Volunteer at NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM): “You can’t feel normal if you haven’t got a night’s sleep and then later on, it becomes a breaking point. I had to leave work for a few months of more intensive care. I am back to work now under the Program’s care.”
Haydee Diaz, Responded as a Flagger; member of LIUNA Local Laborers 731: “My lungs have incrementally gotten worse and worse. I have had three nose operations for polyps; I lost the sense of smell a long time ago…I never had stomach problems and now I have to take medication every day for the GERD, for the hiatal hernia, for the gastritis, which I have been to the emergency room for four or five times. The list goes on and on, and I don’t know where I would be without this Program.”
Alicia Hurtado, MD, Psychiatrist, Associate Medical Director of the World Trade Center Mental Health Program at Mount Sinai: “Our patients’ experience is more similar to that of a war veteran. They experience something very traumatic but when they go home no one else has experienced their trauma in the same way…In our groups, responders work on their issues together, bond over their experiences and support each other. Their isolation starts to dissipate. It’s great that something like this exists, and we need to continue to provide a space for this.”
Michael Crane, MD, MPH, Occupational and Preventative Medicine, Medical Director World Trade Center Health Program Clinical Center at Mount Sinai: “…the nagging concern is there that this other type of illness that we’re not really prepared for yet may emerge in this population. It’s really one of the reasons why we need to watch these patients long term, and is really one of the reasons why the Zadroga Act really has to be reauthorized so we can keep an eye on this going forward.”
The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) is a membership organization of workers, unions, community-based organizations, and workers’ rights activists. NYCOSH uses training, education, advocacy, technical assistance, and organizing to improve health and safety conditions in our workplaces, our communities, and our environment. Founded in 1979 on the principle that workplace injuries, illnesses, and deaths are preventable, NYCOSH works to extend and defend every person’s right to a safe and healthy workplace and community.