Director details miners hospital proposal
|Mike Milovich, Carbon commissioner|
At a meeting on Jan. 22, the director of the first statewide miners hospital addressed retired and current workers in the local coal industry.
"We have spent a lot of time in the last year trying to design this program," stated Dr. Phillip Bryant, who was recently appointed to direct the hospital. "What we want to do is to provide good service in a more accessible way."
The meeting was set to explain a proposed settlement in the ongoing legal dispute about the hospital and introduce miners to the individuals who will work in administration at the facility.
Also present at the meeting was the legal counsel for the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit to bring the matter to a head.
The ongoing dispute has centered around a hospital that miner advocacy groups maintain should have been constructed from money obtained from the sale of lands granted by the United States to Utah between 1896 and 1929.
During the designated time period, a total of 7,475,297 acres were transferred from the federal government to the state.
The money obtained from selling or leasing the acreage was to go to several sources, although the properties were identified as school trust lands.
The classification stuck because the majority of the federal property or 5,855,217 acres of the public lands were to benefit schools.
However, other categories have or should have received money from the remainder of the lands.
Originally, 50,000 acres were earmarked to the benefit the miners hospital through the Utah Enabling Act - the law that allowed the state to enter the union in 1896.
In February 1929, it was determined that the original amount of land was not adequate to fund an ongoing miners hospital.
Therefore, the U.S. Congress granted an additional 50,000 acres under similar provisions.
Of the land in question, 92,787.7 acres have been sold, according to 2000 data, with 7,212.3 remaining.
The proceeds were supposed to be allocated primarily toward funding the construction of the miners hospital.
In 1957, the Legislature decided to turn the proceeds from the sales over to the University of Utah.
The money was reportedly used the money to help build the rehabilitation center at the U of U hospital.
But questions were subsequently raised about the situation, particularly the usefulness of the center to the miners.
Lawsuits filed within the last 10 years have brought the situation to an apparent solution.
The United Mine Workers of America along with several individual plaintiffs filed a final lawsuit regarding the matter in 2000.
In December 2003, the parties identified in the lawsuit submitted a settlement proposal to the the U.S. Third Judicial District Court of Utah.
The parties in the civil complaint tentatively expected a court decision in the case by late Monday afternoon.
As anticipated, the federal court endorsed the agreement on Jan. 26.
The settlement agreement spells out the points specified in the disposition agreement negotiated between the parties involved in the civil lawsuit, particularly during the last year.
"We could have continued to fight this and take a chance to get everything we wanted, but we also could have lost the case and ended up with nothing," said Robert Sykes, the main attorney for the plaintiffs. "There were good points on both sides and I think this settlement is a good compromise."
Bryant explained that the current rehabilitation center in the University of Utah Hospital would be the hospital for the miners.
He also said a specific clinic would be set up in either Orem or Price for services, as well.
"Actually we prefer the Orem location because there is already a clinic there (the University of Utah's Parkway Health Center) and more services and expertise would be available there than in any clinic we could set up in Price," he asserted.
Some miners strongly supported the idea of a clinic in Price while others were more inclined to see the Orem center, with its potentially broader range of service, as being a better choice.
Phillips explained that the services the hospital and the clinic would offer would be much more specific to miners than any that have been provided in the past.
"First of all I want you to know that these services have always been there, but they were not always articulated as well as they should have been," Bryant told the group. "But I also want you to remember that the fund for this is limited. Two or three miners with major illnesses could wipe out the fund. That is why we need to work with your present insurance on payment. We will supplement what they won't pay for."
Some concerns included eligibility, the depth of the fund and whether or not the service would do miners any good at all.
According to settlement documents care will be provided to all miners who have a disability or an illness related to their working in mines in Utah (this excludes gravel operations).
Insurance miners may have kicks in initially and then the hospital and its services would be paid for beyond those thresholds.
If a miner does not have insurance for such a situation, the miners hospital would provide the services free.
These programs are for any persons who worked "for at least two years in or around a mine or preparation facility" and that has received a disabling injury or illness from that employment.
Bryant and Sykes both pointed out that there will be great flexibility on what a mining illness is, since some illnesses are also related to personal habits as well.
"We will try in all cases to give the miner the benefit of the doubt about a disability or illness if at all possible," stated Bryant.
As for money in the fund, no one could give a totally solid answer, but generally it was thought to be about $5 million currently.
Bryant explained that the hospital will set up a tracking system with cards for miners so the hospital will be able to quickly figure out who patients are and what they need.
Miners will also have their own case workers to help them get the services they require.
"There will be a coordinator and a specific phone line for miners to call in on," explained Bryant. "When miners come to the hospital there will be designated parking for them and offices just to serve them at the facility."
He explained that the whole process is still a work in progress and asked that once the approval is given that miners be patient while every thing is set up.
According to officials at the meeting this agreement gives the miners a huge amount of services to draw on, with the University Hospital and the Huntsman Cancer Institute geographically right next to the new miners hospital.
"The university can be an intimidating place because of its size," Bryant explained to the group. "We intend on making it simpler to use our service. We will be pro-patient and even though we don't have control over every individual that miners may come in contact with, there will be mandates from the top on how people are treated. If you have trouble we want to know about it. We can't be your advocates if you don't let us know you are having problems."
One of the other provisions of the settlement is for the University of Utah to give out two, four-year scholarships each year to children and grandchildren of disabled miners.
One of the scholarships will be offered through the College of Nursing or Health in a field related to the health care of miners.
The other scholarship could be used at any of the colleges on the campus.