By Cynthia Magnus
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle
NEW YORK — Council members asked tough questions on Monday at a joint oversight hearing of the committees on Civil Service and Labor; Lower Manhattan Redevelopment; and Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services.
The purpose was to examine the NYC World Trade Center Medical Group 2011 Annual Report on 9/11 Health.
Representatives of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene testified about the screening and treatment for 9/11-related conditions, including respiratory illness, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and cancer. Several council members voiced concern about the availability of screening and treatment for medical and psychological services.
Oliver Koppell (D-Northwest Bronx), chair of the council’s Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services, asked if there is currently an unmet need in NYC for mental health services by those suffering from PTSD related to the WTC disaster.
Trish Marsik, assistant commissioner with the Bureau of Mental Health at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said that she is unaware of any unmet need. However, she added, “I suspect that there are people who are not coming forward and identifying what may be going on in their lives.”
Dr. Carolyn Greene, deputy commissioner of the department’s Division of Epidemiology, added that the WTC health registry is currently conducting an analysis of such patients to assess the need for PTSD treatment. Marsik also confirmed that mental health is a covered condition for those eligible under the Zadroga 9/11 health law.
Brooklyn council member Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn Heights/DUMBO/Downtown) stated his concern with the link between WTC exposure and cancer. He asked Greene, “At what point does the city advocate for the Zadroga Act to be amended to include cancer?
“This isn’t the city’s decision to make,” Greene answered. “Ultimately the WTC health administrator [Dr. John Howard] will make this decision based upon recommendations of [the WTC Health Program Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee] that will in turn make their recommendations based upon the best available evidence and medical findings.”
Levin asked, “How many of these studies do we need — five, 10, three, 20? Because if it’s 20 and we’re only doing one or two a year, it’s going to be the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, and we’re still not going to have cancer covered under the Zadroga Act.”
Frank Tramontano, legislative coordinator for the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), asked the council to support a PBA request to the city to release database information on 9/11 NYPD responders in order to conduct a study of cancer in police officers.
James Sanders (D-Queens), chair of the council’s Committee on Civil Service and Labor, asked Greene, “Why weren’t we told to wear respirators or any type of device at the time? Why was government at every level telling us that it was OK, that it was safe?”
Greene said, “That’s a good question. This was really an unprecedented event, and I think at the time we still had a lot to learn. That’s the importance of doing the research that we had done subsequently so that we can be better prepared in the future.”
Catherine McVay Hughes, chair of Manhattan’s Community Board 1 WTC Redevelopment Committee, who attended the hearing, said afterward, “For those suffering from cancer or who lost a loved one to cancer this is not an academic exercise, it’s not a research project — they want answers now and medical care now.”
Those interested in checking eligibility can click the “enroll in the program” button at: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/wtc/