Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Michael Moore's Cuba expedition

Chicago Tribune | Julie's Health Club:

Michael Moore's Cuba expedition

Near the end of the new documentary “Sicko,” filmmaker Michael Moore brings ten ailing Sept. 11 Ground Zero rescue workers to Cuba for medical treatment after learning that Al Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo Bay receive what he calls, “free, universal health care.”

“The (rescue workers) just want medical attention!” Moore shouts into a loudspeaker, in a futile attempt to win over the security guards. “The same kind Al Qaeda is getting!”

It’s one of the funnier scenes in the movie, which opens June 29 and lambasts the sick state of our mostly private healthcare system. But what Moore really wants to know is:

“How can we treat our heroes like this?”

Contaminated dust from the destruction of The World Trade Center left a legacy that touched volunteer responders who came from nearly every state, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Now, nearly six years after the disaster, many are still suffering persistent respiratory effects. And concerns have risen about the longer-term health risks, including cancer.

Chicago’s Ashley Muenstermann recounted how her brother-in-law, David, a non-smoking union member who was called to help with the cleanup, came down with a bad cough in 2004.

“He was hospitalized and within a short time was diagnosed with long cancer,” she wrote to People magazine in March. “People need to realize that there is a devastating illness killing Ground Zero workers and volunteers.”

At least one of the sick rescue workers Moore took to Cuba didn't get health care coverage because he slipped through the cracks in the U.S. programs, said Katherine Kirkland, director of the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC).

“He didn't know about our program and should have been treated in the U.S., which drives me crazy,” she said.

But Kirkland’s group is working to alleviate the problem. In 2005, the America Red Cross provided the AOEC with grants to help provide medical and psychological care for volunteers involved with rescue recovery and restoration of essential services.

The member clinic at the University of Illinois at Chicago, which provides treatment and also conducts medical monitoring and surveillance, has seen 31 people in the past two years.

So far, 369 people in all but four states have sought help for dozens of conditions, including upper respiratory disorders, the World Trade Center Cough, Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD), asthma, post traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety disorder.

If you or someone you know was a first responder—this does not include tourists or people who lived in Lower Manhattan during the time of the attacks--the first step is to call the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring program at 888-702-0630.

You’ll be asked some questions, including the location and days you worked. If you're eligible, program personnel will help you register and set up an appointment for an exam with an occupational specialist. Clinics are located throughout the country but if there’s not one nearby the American Red Cross grant provides funds for travel.

One caveat: The AOEC program covers diagnosis, prescriptions, physical therapy, and counseling. But prescription drugs are not the only way to treat some physical and mental health conditions. It would be nice to see the funds alos cover holistic treatments such as yoga, tai chi or massage.

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