May 13, 2016
By Bill Hohlfeld
Queens, N.Y. Few of us, (if any) enjoy going to the doctor. Yet, nine floors above the constant buzz of activity on Queens Boulevard, in the Rego Park section of Queens, there is a pleasant waiting room with a friendly and courteous staff whose smiles go a long way to ease any anxiety that may be arising.
The walls are decorated with urban art – photographs of the New York City skyline that include, of course, a magnificent shot of the Freedom Tower. But brochures on the sleek lined coffee table are a reminder of a time in New York when the images that came from that section of Manhattan were neither bright nor glossy. This is the Queens clinic of the World Trade Center Health Program, and it ministers to the various medical needs of those affected by the terrible events of 9/11 and its aftermath.
To this day, we see bumper stickers and tee shirts bearing the logo, “we will never forget.” In a very real and a very positive way, the WTC Health Program has made that slogan a reality. Nearly 15 years after the fact, a dedicated staff of health care professionals along with their administrative colleagues continue to monitor the health of first responders, volunteers, survivors, and residents that were exposed to the many physical and mental hazards that are associated with that
The monitoring examination is multi-faceted and complete. It begins with the basics, such as weight checks and blood pressure readings. Then it quickly moves on to comprehensive blood work and urinalysis. There is also a respiratory test to check lung capacity. Of course there are questionnaires to complete, and they are as directed toward one’s mental state as one’s physical symptoms.
That is helpful to the social workers on staff who also see each client who goes through the process. Gentle and non- judgmental in their approach, they gently probe, assuring both the patient and themselves that there are no wounds that are festering. Sometimes scar tissue takes a long time to form, and sometimes it can be easily punctured. The social workers make sure that the proper healing has taken place first.
The nursing staff is upbeat, and no less thorough. They make sifting through the pile of available data seem much more like a conversation with an old friend than a required procedure set down by a bureaucracy. In fact, despite the countless regulations that one imagines the clinic must need to abide by (due to its public funding), at no time in the process does a participant feel like a number. The emphasis here is on the person.
The consultation with the doctor is focused, personalized and unhurried. With the type of hands-on approach that is reassuring, the doctor checks ears, nose and throat as well as thyroid, looking closely at the results of tests and other factors to insure that no stone is being left unturned. Any repetition of questions during this entire sequence leaves one quite certain that the goal is to check and double check the facts; one never feels unheard.
Finally, chest x-rays are very often in order and that too is taken care of as seamlessly as possible with a visit to the unaffiliated health care facility next door. All the arrangements have been made for patients in advance, and never in this entire process are you asked for a health insurance card or a credit card. That certainly adds to the painless nature of the experience.
If, on the surface, this process seems like a lengthy one, to some extent that is the case. But, considering the comprehensive scope of what issues are being treated, it is, in truth, remarkably quick. There is more time spent in action than in waiting, and the return on the investment is high yield indeed. A couple of hours of time on an annual basis may very well mean the difference between whether or not one detects a problem that might possibly be fatal.
Administrative Director, Lori Boni and Administrative Coordinator, Patrick Hewes were gracious enough to spend a few minutes telling me about the extent of the work that the clinic accomplishes. Interestingly, both Ms. Boni and Mr. Hewes, were not always in the medical field. They began their careers in the fields of in the health insurance and urban planning respectively. What is not surprising is that each of them found their way to the program driven by the need to be of service to their community, and it shows. In short, they do a lot with a little. With
a complete staff of 17, including all practitioners and administrative personnel the clinic monitors between 125 and 140 clients per week. But over the years, the number of people being, not just monitored but receiving treatment, has grown as well, and is also somewhere between 125 and 140 per week.
The clinic provides a range of services from colonoscopy, to screening for cervical cancer and mammography, to low dose cat scans. Ms. Boni explains the driving force behind the clinic. “We know our patients, and we understand public health,” she says. She, and everyone at the center are buoyed by the fact that as a result of the Zadroga Act, there will be funding to keep the WTC Health Program functioning for the next 75 years. Simply put, according to Ms. Boni, “Responders have earned the right to quality care.”
Since 2006, the entire program and all eight of its locations are under the supervision of Clinical Director, Jacqueline M. Moline, M.D., M.Sc., an Occupational Medicine specialist. If you would like more information about the program and the services provided, please call 1-888-982-4748, or go online at www.cdc.gov/wtc/