Chapter 8: Danger: Roadblocks Ahead
I sought—and continue to seek—opinions from experts who have set up command posts at the site. The EPA, FEMA, the New York State Health Department, the City Health Departments, NYPD, FDNY, the US Secret Service and others are all there. I continue to get conflicting reports on the presence or levels of asbestos, beryllium, dioxin, particulates, and carbon monoxide. People have expressed concern about the contents of the pulverized and burned computer screens (50,000 of them), insulation, and human remains.
To get help, I turned to the network of experts that my company had been lining up to help with writing some of its curriculum. I began to ask for assistance in finding ways to use it to address first responders’ inhalation and occupational injury issues.
Dr. Edward Rosenow assisted and referred me Mayo Clinic experts in the field of occupational disease. Dr. Paul Enright, who is now working with the CDC and with NIOSH, got my staff hooked into a working group that is trying to assess and advise local doctors on how to treat people in the Lower Manhattan neighborhood. Their assistance, and the help of those to whom they referred us, allowed us to create a tele-education and telemedicine resource for reliable information to instruct the officers, conduct the screening studies, and get the clinical measurements interpreted without overtaxing the local healthcare teams.
The school Education Project we were developing at InnerLink had instantly converted to become part of a disaster response program without a hitch. The White Paper demonstrated how valuable that preparation is to help with any disaster response. What we had lacked was instant access—or, for that matter, any access—to the officers’ medical records.
It became clear that the online record we were using for the school project to teach children and school nurses about the terminology would be useful in a situation like this. Our call to Dr. Peter Yellowlees in Australia led him to call the president of a company in New Zealand, DoctorGlobal. They immediately called me to see how they could help, offering free lifetime use of their medical records, for the officers to use for their care, and for us to use to reduce the logistical difficulty of building a database for a study of the health effects in the future.
The biggest challenge, however, concerned legal issues. The NYPD and the six unions that represented the police officers tiptoed around the issue of on-the-job injuries and what those would mean to the officers’ pension, workman’s compensation, and retirement plans. Other roadblocks existed as well. Lacking any registry of local physicians trained and willing to help, we took the initiative and contacted some doctors at the major medical centers. These doctors were either too busy or too uninterested to assist in the volunteer effort. Some were concerned about their malpractice coverage and some appeared more interested in publicity or grant funds than in the patients. Out-of-state assistance in interpreting the medical tests was met with resistance from lawyers representing some of the professional societies. Fortunately, many of these societies are gearing up for future disasters and are addressing the issues that impaired a greater response in this one. Other groups, like the American Association of Respiratory Therapists, rallied to send their members to New York, despite issues concerning licensing.
The Lancaster volunteers observed the funeral of one of the police officers. It was held at the largest cathedral in the city, yet there was still an overflow crowd. The streets were lined with uniformed officers. The bagpiped droned on in sadness. For those who did not actually get to Ground Zero but were working with the officers, it added meaning to the work we were doing and a bit of closure—if there is such a thing—on the experience.
Later that day, the group went to the Rockefeller Center and the NBC studios. We then learned that anthrax had been discovered at NBC studios, and that our group may have been exposed. Another act of terrorism had hit New York City, and now the immediacy—and the ongoing nature—of the danger was all too real.