Last week, Parkland Memorial Hospital announced that free x-ray screenings would be provided to anyone who lived near or worked at the W.R. Grace & Company vermiculite plant in West Dallas. The plant has been closed since 1992, but the latency period of asbestos illnesses means that the health of hundreds of people is still in jeopardy. Vermiculite is by itself an innocuous substance. However, the vermiculite processed by W.R. Grace & Company was frequently contaminated with asbestos fibers. In May of 2007, nearly one-third of a group of 25 people were discovered to have asbestos-related diseases when screened by Dallas health officials. It was then proposed that a larger screening be made available to the public. When Parkland Memorial issued the announcement, however, they were unprepared for the response. Over 500 people who at one time lived near and worked in and around the W.R. Grace factory responded. Over half of them had to be turned away. Sue Pickens, Parkland Memorial’s Director of Strategic Planning, said, “People are hurting and sick, and they’re looking for ways to get help.” Because health care in the U.S. is considered a consumer commodity rather than a right, such screenings are not freely available by qualified medical institutions.
Political leaders, lawmakers and all but one of the current 2008 presidential candidates continue to insist that the “private sector” will provide solutions. The problem is that the “private sector” is under no obligation to serve the public good; it must, however maximize profits. Unfortunately, screenings for asbestos illnesses are not profitable for private health insurance companies. Therefore, many who need such services are denied them unless they are able to pay the ever-increasing fees charged by the radiology groups. The other problem this situation creates is the opportunity for scam artists to offer “low-cost” mass screenings performed by unqualified personnel in parking lots and hotel rooms. These kinds of “mass screenings” have been used by unethical lawyers to “harvest” clients. Unfortunately, x-rays and diagnoses provided in such mass screenings are usually not accepted as evidence in asbestos trials and do more harm than good to the plaintiff’s case. The screening at Parkland Memorial was made possible by a grant so that corporate shareholders and CEOs were not inconvenienced or denied compensation.