The Pineville City County received an update on the Carson Black Lung Clinic, which has been operating on the third floor of the Southeastern Kentucky Medical Center for a little over six months, at Monday’s meeting.
Rodney Terry, the clinic’s chief operation officer, spoke about the clinic’s mission and future plans.
The Carson Black Lung Clinic and Education Center was founded by Ron Carson in Pennington Gap, Virginia.
“As we were talking about the project, we realized that the need for black lung treatment was especially proven and necessary in Pineville, Kentucky,” Terry said. “PMF, Progressive Mass Fibrosis, was researched by Ron Carson at the three clinics he was running at the time. The highest rates of PMF is found in this area.”
PMF can affect miners as young as 20 years old and Terry said it like Black Lung on steroids.
“You have miners who are 20 years old dying. Literally choking because they can’t breathe. It’s as if they are breathing through a straw,” he said. “I was not away of how serious it was. We processed about 63 miners at our clinic and two of them already have PMF.”
He said it was the equivalent of doing a colon cancer screening and two out of every 100 had colon cancer.
“If this were any other disease and affected any other population, this would be an national emergency,” Terry said. “But we’re dealing with a population of people who are very proud, who generally don’t want anyone to feel sorry for them.”
The Carson Clinic wants miners to know they have the right to get tested.
“Black lung, once you have it, is fatal. You will die. The only cure is a lung transplant,” Terry said. “What we’re doing at the Carson Black Lung Clinic is education miners so that they and their families can have a better way of life.”
Terry said the clinic was fortunate to find space in the Pineville Hospital that can accommodate a respiratory care unit where miners can get respiratory rehabilitation to help them live longer with black lung than they normally would. An extensive amount of work has gone into preparing the space to house the clinic.
“We were committed and still are committed to being in the City of Pineville. It is important for us to be here,” he said. “One of my jobs as chief operating officer is forecasting and we see a lot of good things going on here. Your town has a lot going on and I’ve been noticing — despite the situation at the hospital — this town I believe is going to be on the up and up.”
There are plans to bring in two triple board certified pulmonologists to practice at the clinic and to expand to take up the entire third floor of the hospital. Terry said he has also looked at real estate in the city, including the homeless shelter, in case the clinic needs to find a new location.
So far seven people have been hired by the clinic and Terry says they are high-paying jobs at better salaries than any other black lung clinics in the region.
“If you’re going to bring the services to the miners, you’re also servicing your employees,” he said. “It’s an atmospheres where our staff knows they are taken care of so they can take care of the miners. We’ve two outreaches so far, we’re doing a third on in Harlan in March and we’re bringing those miners to Pineville.
“This town will benefit from having the black lung clinic here. From here we go out west, we go to Pittsburgh, we go to Ohio and this will be the treating hub for the miners.”
He said that right now the focus is on getting miners to take the 143b exam, which is paid for by the Department of Labor and can be taken ever 13 months.
“Once we get them in the system, we can determine whether they have black lung, how far the disease has progressed and what they need to do to prepare themselves,” Terry said. “If we can get a miner into respiratory rehabilitation, we can get a miner what they have to look forward to or what they have to do to take care of themselves down the road.”
The clinic plans to add four new employees to go along with the pulmonologists and will be a full clinic by the end of May.
“We know who’s buttered our bread here for 100 years,” Mayor Scott Madon said. “Our town and our county have been built on the coal miners backs, and I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys who do that work and still do that work. We have a lot of people that are still doing it. We appreciate it and appreciate you helping them.”
Terry said he appreciates the support the clinic has received from the community and especially the employees at the hospital.
“They have bent over backwards. To an employee they have all helped us in ways they didn’t have to. I can’t tell you how helpful every employee at that hospital has been,” he said.
Madon said the he’s had a lot of focus on the hospital over the last two weeks.
“I can say without reservation that I believe Pineville Hospital is going to be okay. I can’t say a whole lot, but I believe it’s going to be taking a new direction in the near future,” he said. “Any fears you may have about leaving the hospital, you can forget them because things are fixing to look up.”
Madon thanked Terry for coming to the meeting.
“Come see us any time. If you have any issues we’ll help in any way we can,” he said. “We have a lot of respect for our coal miners and we appreciate you helping them.”