9/11 retirees struggling to get health care in Southwest Florida

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Brave men and women worked hard to save lives during the September, 11th terror attacks.

But now, years later and retired living in Southwest Florida, they are having a hard time getting the health care they need.

“I was at 9/11 as most of my friends and colleagues,” said Bill McMahon, a retired New York Police Department sergeant who has been living in Southwest Florida for 10 years. “They said the air was safe, obviously it wasn’t.”

McMahon said there are about 700 NYPD retirees in Southwest Florida who need medical care, but some health care providers, including Lee Health, don’t take their health insurance.

“There’s doctors everywhere down here. And we just drive by and we can’t go in,” McMahon said.

That’s the situation Andrea DiNella is in. She retired from the New York Police Department.

“I was told after serving for 25 years, I would have health care for the rest of my life,” DiNella said.

Others like Eric Bergstrom, who retired from the NYPD, are in dire need.

“I developed, unfortunately, cancer from 9/11. Prostate cancer,” Bergstrom said.

A prominent cancer center in Tampa didn’t take Bergstrom’s health insurance so for treatments, he had to drive to New York’s Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital for care, Bergstrom said.

His wife, Theresa Bergstrom, also retired from the NYPD. In her case, a Punta Gorda neurologist canceled an appointment the night before.

“We all were walking dead. And now we have no health care,” she said.

Their provider is Emblem Health an insurance company based in New York City. Many retirees say they chose Emblem Health Insurance because it was the more affordable retirement package.

When they retired in Florida Emblem Insurance was accepted, but those contracts have since run out.

“We had doctors. They were taken away from us. Now we need doctors. We’re old. and we need care and we want it because that’s what we were promised,” Theresa Bergstrom said.

WINK News asked Emblem if the company is trying to renew those contracts, a spokesperson declined to comment, saying “We do not comment on any discussions or negotiations with providers.”

“We’ve been losing our doctors either to retirement, or they’re being taken over by the local companies like Lee Health, Millennium,” McMahon said. “And because of that… then they no longer accept our coverage.”

The alternative is to return to New York every time they need to go to the doctor.

But that’s not practical.

“Traveling back and forth and the storms. I mean, it was brutal,” said Joe Poliseno, a retired New York firefighter.

The World Trade Center Program offers medical monitoring and treatment, but these 9/11 retirees said it takes more time than they have.

DiNella is on a fixed income, she said.

And 9/11 left her with a slew of issues.

“I have to fly up for that because I heard down here, it’s hard to get doctors,” DiNella said. “I’m kind of like stuck.”

To help others in his situation, McMahon created a Facebook group for 9/11 retirees where they can exchange doctors’ information.

“It was just Florida at first and then it just kind of took off,” McMahon said. “Next thing you know, South Carolina, Texas.”

Dinella said there are so many people like her who don’t know what to do.

“This is like a dire situation.”

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