As a volunteer firefighter after 9/11, Kevin Maxwell spent seven months carrying out search and rescue operations at ground zero, filling up buckets of debris to create pathways into the rubble. It wasn't just a job for Maxwell but "a calling"; he was searching to find some of the 18 friends from the fire department he lost in the attacks.
Maxwell, 72, eventually retired and moved to Virginia in 2011. By then he'd been diagnosed with asthma, sinusitis and an anxiety disorder — common conditions for first responders and survivors of 9/11. So when he began feeling a sharp pain in his right lung in 2018, his pulmonologist immediately recommended an X-ray. Maxwell's service meant he was entitled to free health care for any ailments deemed medically connected to his exposure at ground zero. Relieved that he didn't have to worry about whether he could afford the scan, Maxwell scheduled it.
His relief, however, dissolved when a letter from a collection agency landed on his doorstep. Months later, after another procedure, it happened again, and then again and again, until Maxwell was "getting hounded about money" by bill collectors.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress created and funded the World Trade Center Health Program, or WTCHP, to pay for the ongoing medical care of survivors and first responders who suffer from conditions related to their exposure at ground zero. Those still in metropolitan New York can simply seek treatment at one of several hospitals involved in the program, but for the roughly 24,000 responders and survivors who no longer live nearby, the WTCHP contracts the job out to a Wisconsin-based company called Logistics Health Inc., or LHI.
In a series of interviews, nearly 20 patients — known as "members" — served by LHI and seven current and former employees said issues like Maxwell's have become routine and that LHI is not only failing to achieve some of its most basic aims but also worsening members' trauma.
LHI didn't respond to a detailed list of questions. A spokesperson said that the company is "committed to treating every individual we serve with care and compassion" and that it will "carefully review" members' concerns.