WTC clinic in a bind after Congress lets Zadroga Act expire

Oct 1, 2015
In The News

Treating 13,000 patients a year at the World Trade Center Health Program is hard enough for Dr. Michael Crane — now he has to work under a cloud of uncertainty since part of the Zadroga Act expired.

“I don’t have much hair left anyway, and the rest of it is going to fall out,” said Crane, the director of Mt. Sinai’s clinic in Manhattan.

His center is one of seven in the New York area that lost funding on 12:01 am Thursday because a gridlocked Congress let a key part of the Zadroga Act expire.

Crane’s clinic, as well as the other six, can use their existing funds for the next year to keep treating patients but that doesn’t make it less stressful.

“Imagine you have a family member with cancer and the doctor is trying to plot out your long-term treatment. Where is this going to go?” he said.

“It’s really, really frightening for our patients,” he said.

It’s also hard on the staff, he said.

“Come early spring time I have to go back to the doctors and say, ‘I have to tell you guys I may not be able to pay you in six months,’” he said.

“And then they’ll say ‘I love you doc, but I got to go.’”

The rest of the Zadroga Act — which also makes payment to the victim compensation fund — expires on Sept. 20, 2016.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney said she will try to push the entire legislation to the floor for a vote by the end of this year.

She said they are also trying to get it permanently funded, so it won’t expire and leave clinics like Crane’s in the lurch.

“These people are permanently ill, they have permanent cancer, ” she said.

The clinics aren’t just in New York. There’s also health care centers in other parts of the country to treat people who were down at Ground Zero working, either who came to help or New Yorkers who moved.

About 70,000 people receive treatment or monitoring from the centers nationwide — including Ray Pfeifer, 56, from Hicksville, Long Island.

The former member of the FDNY — whose stage four cancer is tied to his work at Ground Zero — doesn’t understand why Congress isn’t moving more quickly.

“After 9/11, what were they all saying? ‘Never forget.’ What happened? They forgot,” said Pfeifer.

The ex-firefighter knew working at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the terror attack — for weeks without a mask — was probably dangerous, but he isn’t bitter.

“I lucked out on 9/11,” he said. “I had 14 more years with my kids then my friends had.”