Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced a series of new initiatives to strengthen the City's response to emerging health issues related to attacks on the World Trade Center. The three-point effort calls for: the establishment of a WTC Environmental Health Center at Bellevue Hospital, the expansion of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's (DOHMH) World Trade Center Unit, and the creation of an internal Mayoral review panel to ensure maximum coordination between City agencies and assess the sufficiency of state and federal resources to address ongoing health needs. The Mayor also renewed his call for support from the state and federal government to provide long-term funding for monitoring and treatment programs. Since September 11, 2001, various City agencies have established monitoring and health programs related to the attacks on the World Trade Center. This comprehensive Citywide effort creates a broad framework to guide the City's response moving forward. The Mayor was joined by Deputy Mayor for Administration Edward Skyler, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs, Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) President Alan D. Aviles, Deputy Health Commissioner Lorna Thorpe, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly for the announcement at City Hall.
"The attacks on the World Trade Center resulted in an unprecedented disaster in our City and nation's history," said Mayor Bloomberg. "Today we are unveiling new efforts to aid the men and women who selflessly responded in the days and months following the attacks. This plan will strengthen services to individuals in need of help today, while enhancing our local capacity to identify and respond to the health needs of tomorrow. We will never abandon those who gave heroically during those difficult days."
"HHC is playing an integral role in the City's plans to address critical gaps and further assist New Yorkers suffering from World Trade Center-related health conditions," said HHC President Aviles. "The WTC Environmental Health Center will allow us to bring comprehensive assessment and specialty treatment to a broader range of people with suspected WTC-related health problems, especially those who are not able to access existing WTC programs. We look forward to working with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and building on our successful partnership with Bellevue Hospital, NYU School of Medicine and many community-based partners such as the Beyond Ground Zero Coalition."
"These new resources will allow us to better monitor and investigate illnesses potentially associated with the WTC and will enable us, in coordination with the new WTC Environmental Health Center, clinical partners, and others, to expand needed services," said Health Commissioner Frieden. "The goal is to develop the most accurate understanding of and best response to the physical and mental health effects linked to WTC exposure and to provide this to doctors, patients, and the public."
Establishment of the City's WTC Environmental Health Center at Bellevue Hospital/NYU
With increasing evidence that some of those exposed to dust and fumes at the WTC site are experiencing symptoms of possible respiratory disease, there is a need to expand the existing capacity for comprehensive assessment and treatment services, particularly for those unable to qualify for existing federally funded programs. HHC will establish the WTC Environmental Health Center at Bellevue Hospital/NYU to expand comprehensive medical and mental health screening, evaluation and treatment services to a broader range of individuals with suspected World Trade Center-related health problems particularly residents, uninsured individuals, undocumented immigrants, and all others in need of care who are not currently receiving services. The City will provide $16 million to HHC over the next five years to develop and staff (up to 28 adjusting to need and capacity) the specialty clinic, which will enable it to assess and treat up to 6,000 additional patients.
Center services will include a complete physical examination with focus on specific tests associated with common WTC-associated symptoms, a formalized WTC-related disease clinical diagnosis and medical and mental health treatment. To ensure the broadest possible coverage, the new Center will serve any individuals who were exposed to WTC dust or fumes, including residents of Manhattan or Brooklyn, office workers, City employees and volunteers, and individuals involved in debris removal and clean-up. The Center is scheduled to open in January 2007.
The new Center will be modeled on the successful Bellevue Hospital Center WTC Health Impacts Treatment Program established in August 2005. The existing HHC program at Bellevue, run in collaboration with New York University School of Medicine, has worked closely with community-based organizations to reach those individuals with WTC-related exposure who have been otherwise unable to access healthcare services. To date, that program has treated nearly 500 predominantly uninsured City residents and recovery workers with WTC-related health problems.
Expansion of the Health Department's World Trade Center Unit
The expansion of the Health Department's WTC Unit will enable the City to increase monitoring for a range of potential WTC-related health conditions; increase communication efforts with affected individuals, treating physicians and local and national stakeholders; and continue expansion of mental health services to individuals who continue to suffer the psychological effects of September 11th. The Unit will establish – using reliable data and rigorous epidemiologic techniques – new systems to monitor for respiratory and other physical health conditions that may be linked to World Trade Center exposure and share that information with the medical community and public as quickly as possible. Improved WTC monitoring will help direct health resources to, and awareness about, health and mental health conditions potentially related to WTC exposure.
The expanded WTC unit will also work closely with academic experts, the NYU/Bellevue Environmental Health Center, and case fatality tracking systems being developed at the State Department of Health to increase and improve understanding of WTC-associated diseases. The City will provide $21.6 million over five years to these initiatives, which will include an increase in full-time staff members from seven to 20.
Creation of Internal Review Panel
In addition, the Mayor has asked Deputy Mayor for Administration Edward Skyler and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs to convene all City agencies that serve or represent individuals potentially affected by WTC-related illness to ensure policies are coordinated across agencies, and identify mechanisms through which emerging issues can be quickly elevated and shared across agency lines. They will also review the availability and sufficiency of resources aimed at assisting those who have been affected by WTC-related illness, and recommend strategies to ensure the ongoing adequacy of those resources. As part of their work, the deputy mayors will consult with external organizations and entities with expertise in these issues, and make a report to the Mayor within three months.
Mayor Bloomberg also reaffirmed today that he would continue to support a long-term commitment from both the state and federal level to provide funding critical to the success and continuation of these programs. The Mayor will continue to support legislation to re-open the Federal Victims Compensation Fund, which was established to provide for the families of those who died in the attack and for the individuals who were physically injured in its immediate aftermath. The filing deadline was in 2003 – long before many people's symptoms arose or were diagnosed. The Mayor has also advocated for continued federal funding of current health monitoring and treatment programs including the extension of funding for the WTC Health Registry and securing additional funding to address continued health and mental services.
In the aftermath of September 11th, a number of City agencies and a consortium of hospitals established programs to address and monitor the health of individuals exposed to dust and debris. The data compiled from these programs has provided information that is helping the City understand the long-term effects arising from 9/11.
Current programs in place include the Health Department's World Trade Center Health Registry that monitors the long-term physical and mental effects of more than 71,000 Registry participants, which include first responders, other City agency and private recovery workers, individuals who were working in office buildings on the morning of the attacks, school children in Lower Manhattan, and others who were highly exposed to the WTC disaster. The Registry is the largest and most ambitious post-disaster health project in the nation. The FDNY has also established the WTC Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program to address medical issues among Fire and EMS personnel. In addition to its establishment of a database to record all WTC-related exposures among Police Department personnel, the NYPD has conducted medical and psychological screenings and provided treatment for all NYPD members who had WTC-related exposure at Ground Zero, the Staten Island Landfill and Medical Examiner's Office, with follow-up screening planned. In addition, a consortium of hospitals in the city and around the region have established screening and treatment programs that have reached more than 30,000 people.