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Talk To Terrie: Nuclear Weapons Workers and Uranium Industry Workers Deserve a Mayo Clinic-Type Facility

July 13, 2021

July 13, 2021

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It has always been a dream of mine that former and current nuclear weapons workers, including uranium mining workers covered under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA be provided with a Mayo Clinic-type facility.  I envisioned that this facility would screen for diseases, diagnose, possibly treat, and coordinate care with their local providers.

I raised this once with a Department of Energy official and I could almost hear him fall off his chair through the phone when I suggested this idea.

Apparently, I am not the only one who would like to see part of this idea implemented.  The Hanford Healthy Energy Workers Board issued a report and this is one of their suggestions,

One of the Center’s key responsibilities would be to implement evidence-based practices of coordination of care for complex and chronic conditions, tailored to the Hanford workforce. Enhanced coordination capabilities should include enhanced care and case management across multiple provider systems

The Center the board mentions is the Hanford Health Energy Workers Center.  Governor Jay Inslee of Washington signed legislation creating this Center in 2018.  The Center assists Hanford workers filing claims with the state but also created a list of diseases presumed to be the result of exposure to toxic substances, including radiation.

Two questions the survey asked are:

  • Healthcare access – Respondents were asked a series of questions about the access and affordability of health care. Questions included inquiries as to access to transportation, the ability to pay for healthcare and access to additional onsite healthcare services.
  • Healthcare quality – Respondents were asked about their assessment of the onsite medical staff and the Tri-Cities area health care professionals’ ability to address the unique healthcare needs of Hanford workers.

Anyone reading this will realize that Hanford is not the only Department of Energy (DOE) site where sick workers face sometimes insurmountable obstacles in accessing needed health care. All workers and former workers need to have a similar entity. But my dream is even broader.

  • DOE will fund the construction and staffing of four facilities located geographically, possibly near where the Department of Labor’s Resource Centers. A different government entity, maybe the Institute of Health, will oversee the overall program and staff. The Department of Labor will continue to pay for the medical benefits for covered conditions and diagnostic testing as allowed under the law.
  • Another option would be for DOE to enter into an agreement with the Veterans Administration (VA) to have the nuclear weapons workers facility located in or on the property owned by the VA. Many workers were served in the military and may visit the VA clinics and hospitals for conditions related to their military service.  The VA has many facilities across the country which would make travel easier on the sick workers.
  • The Former Worker Medical Screening Program must be part of these facilities. It is a great program and has doubtlessly saved many lives.  My vision is to expand the role of the screening program and allow them to diagnose a condition and provide the workers’ personal providers a treatment plan.
  • In lieu of the worker having access locally to adequate health care, necessary treatment available locally, the new facility could step in and treat the worker. They would also coordinate with any personal providers on the treatment plan.

I want something like this for the nuclear weapons workers.

This is just a snapshot of my dream.  Will it happen?  Maybe.  I am one of the world’s most optimistic people and believe anything is possible.

I am thankful to the State of Washington for their continued support and advocacy for the Hanford workers.  They are the leading star to follow in the quest to provide care and fair compensation to those who worked and still work to keep America safe.