Carson Black Lung representative speaks to council

The Carson Black Lung Clinic has been in operation on the third floor of the Pineville Hospital for just over six months. On Tuesday, Rodney Terry, the chief operating officer at the clinic, addressed the Pineville City Council with an update.

The Carson Black Lung Clinic Research and Education Center was started in Pennington Gap, Va. by Mr. Ron Carson.

“As we were talking about the project, we realized that the need for black lung treatment was especially proven and necessary in Pineville,” Terry said. “PMF, Progressive Mass Fibrosis, was research and basically the research was cultivated by Ron Carson’s three clinics.”

According to Terry, at the time that he was running the research the highest rates of PMF were found in this area.

“You have miners who are 20 years old dying,” he said. “Literally choking because they can’t breathe, it’s as if they are breathing through a straw, and progressive mass fibrosis is not the normal run of the mill dying from black lung. It’s on steroids when you think about what’s happening to it.”

Terry said he was not aware of how serious it was even after the research, studies and meeting miners.

“It wasn’t until we processed about 63 miners at our clinic, and two of them already have PMF,” he explained. “This would be the equivalent if we were 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 of people, this would be a national emergency.”

He said they are dealing with a population of people who are very proud and generally don’t want anyone to feel sorry for them. What they are trying to do at the Carson Clinic is to reframe the situation so that miners know they have a right to get tested.

“It would be as if you went to get a colonoscopy when you get to a certain age,” he explained. “Black lung once you have it, it’s fatal, and you will die. You will die from it, and the only cure from it is a lung transplant.”

Terry reiterated that what they are doing at the Carson Lung Center is educating miners so them and their family can have a better quality of life.

“The disease progresses to a place where the miner can’t walk 30 feet without carrying oxygen and, sometimes, that’s too much,” Terry said. “We were fortunate enough to find space in the Pineville Hospital that would accommodate us having a respiratory therapy care unit where the miners can get respiratory rehabilitation — to help them live with the disease longer than they normally would.”

Terry explained that the space has undergone extensive amounts of work to prepare it for use.

“We were committed and still are committed to being in the City of Pineville,” he said. “We will probably take the entire third floor of that hospital. We are bringing in two triple board certified pulmonologists back to the region, not in name but actually practicing and working in the clinic.”

He explained that they have hired seven people so far, and it is an atmosphere where the staff knows they are taken care of.

“They can focus on the miners,” he explained. “We’ve had two outreaches so far, and we are doing a third one in Harlan and bringing those miners to Pineville. Miners will be coming from nationwide in vans and Winnebago’s to come here into our facility and Pennington Gap to get these services.

Terry credits it all to Mr. Carson.

“It’s amazing what he has been able to do,” he said. “Mr. Carson was recognized by Congress on both sides for his work in black lung, and he has never taken a dime from a miner represented in the court.”

Terry said between the clinic and Dr. Mohan’s clinic, together they are anchoring the hospital in that section where they currently are. He also explained that they are currently in negotiations with a couple of universities in the area to start research and education projects.

He also explained that they want to offer the facility to the area, to the kids, and to the parents so they can see that there is something happening here.

“Our goal is to provide skill training, high paying jobs, paying greater than the national average and also expansion,” he said. “We’ve been looking at some real estate in town. Our existence does not depend on upon a building. Our existence is dependent upon the people who need the services.”

He also pointed out that they are spending their money locally.

“We are spending money in Middlesboro and in town,” he said. “We’ve used Harris Printing, and we are using a printing supply place in Middlesboro. We are trying to be good citizens in the community and stay away from the big box stores.”

“We know who’s buttered our bread here for 100 years,” Mayor 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.”

The clinic currently provides outpatient services but is expected to be a full clinic by the end of May. Terry explains at that point they will expand into the respiratory therapy services and will be offering more services.

“I think by the end of the year, we will probably need to take the entire third floor or find a new building,” he said. “If we can get a miner into respiratory rehabilitation, we can get a miner to understand what they are going to look forward to or what they have to do down the line.”

Terry said the next goal is to get a full staff.

“We have six employees,” he said. “We need to hire another because we are bringing on two more pulmonologists. This is the first time in a long time that you’re going to have two triple board certified pulmonologists operating out of that building.”

Information on the upcoming outreach in Harlan is expected to be released in the upcoming weeks and can be found in the Middlesboro Daily News and the Harlan Enterprise.