W.R. Grace Plan for Asbestos Victims of Libby Not Working

“Before all things and above all things, care must be taken of the sick, so that they will be served as if they were Christ in person.” – St. Benedict of Nursia (CE 480–547) Despite the frequent declarations of our political leaders of their devout faith, virtually none of them (with the exception of a handful of men and women of true integrity) seem able or willing to fulfill the directive of the fifth-century founder of Christian monasticism. Instead, this is left to the “goodwill” of private corporations, whose primary directive by law is to place profits before all else. One could argue that W.R. Grace and Company, whose asbestos and vermiculite mines caused the poisoning of entire town, is at least making an effort in this direction, however half-hearted. But is it really working for the victims? In addition to the nearly $3 billion settlement agreed to, W.R. Grace and Co. vice president William Corcoran told the northwest Montana media last month that the company intends to continue its monetary contributions on behalf of Libby’s asbestos victims, even after emerging from its Chapter 11 “reorganization” plan. Since 2000, when Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Andrew Schneider broke the story of Libby to the nation, W.R. Grace has paid over $14 million for the care and treatment of the town’s asbestos victims–a proverbial drop in the bucket when compared to its corporate profits, but at least something. Of this amount, $2 million has been given to the local hospital, St. John’s Lutheran. Corcoran says that the company intends to continue its annual quarter-million dollar payments to the hospital. However, despite Corcoran’s assurance that his company intends to keep the health care program going, patients are still being denied the care they need–including supplemental oxygen.

LeRoy Thom, who administers the Libby Asbestos Medical Plan, said: “They can have the best plan on paper, but if they don’t follow through it’s not worth the paper it’s written on… if the Grace medical plan followed the same criteria as other plans, they’d be held to a standard.” Libby asbestos patients who enrolled in the program back in 2005 and 2006 are now being told that benefits under the plan are to be scaled back–including chest x-rays, which are now to be limited to one per year. Thom has asked that an insurance review board look at patients’ claims, and has been working with other advocates to develop plans to form a trust fund. Despite the corporation’s multi-billion dollar profits, W.R. Grace and Company representatives insist that because of their “bankruptcy,” they would be “unable to fund a trust.” If Thom and his fellow advocates continue to make demands or investigate, the company has threatened to pack up its marbles and go home. ” Here we still sit out here, battling for everything we get,” Thom lamented.