AdvanceMed focuses on advocacy

AdvanceMed Hanford has received an overall rating of "good" for its work in fiscal 2010, but the Department of Energy wants its patient advocacy strengthened.

The CSC company, which holds the occupational health contract for the Hanford nuclear reservation, received an award payment of $800,314. That's 89 percent of the pay possible for the year from DOE.

DOE is asking for improvements this year in patient advocacy, adding a Worker Health and Well-being category to its performance plan that will be evaluated through worker questionnaires and by tracking issue reporting, said DOE spokesman Geoff Tyree.

To receive an outstanding rating in the category next year, AdvanceMed must respond to at least 95 percent of worker-initiated issues within a week. It must have a minimum of 90 percent favorable response to services on worker questionnaires.

In addition DOE must determine that AdvanceMed has not caused or added to any major worker care issues.

In 2010 the Beryllium Awareness Group at Hanford sent AdvanceMed, or AMH, a letter saying the group had "no confidence" in beryllium services, according to DOE. Particles of the metal beryllium can cause an incurable and often debilitating lung disease in workers with a genetic susceptibility.

"On several occasions Hanford workers have felt it necessary to bring concerns directly to DOE rather than AMH due to its not having an effective issue resolution process in place," Tyree said.

In addition a DOE Office of Health, Safety and Security inspection in response to worker and worker advocate concerns about the beryllium protection program at Hanford found that AdvanceMed had not performed an analysis of newly diagnosed cases in Hanford workers for two years.

The analyses of medical, job and exposure data for employees is required by DOE rules to help identify workers at risk for exposure to beryllium, to better understand beryllium health risks and identify actions to improve the beryllium protection program.

As a result of the report, AdvanceMed has worked with Hanford environmental cleanup contractors, organized labor and the Beryllium Awareness Group to help identify workers at risk for exposure to beryllium and to find other ways to improve the protection program, said Lisa Poulter, CSC director of public health sciences.

It also has improved data collection and analysis procedures to help identify workers at risk for exposure to beryllium and has expanded its reporting of worker monitoring data to DOE and representatives of groups such as the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council, she said.

"Clearly beryllium is a big deal at Hanford and we have a very aggressive, comprehensive program for beryllium workers," she said.

AdvanceMed is expected to name a new occupational medical director soon,which should further improve communications, she said. Staff also has been added to the beryllium program, she said.

"We believe with the leadership changes being put in place, we will develop a more collaborative working relationship with Hanford workers," Poulter said.

DOE also has directed AdvanceMed to improve follow-up letters to patients to explain medical test results in terms that the average person can understand.

DOE praised AdvanceMed in several areas in the evaluation.

It provided outstanding support to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Program, a program that compensates workers or their survivors for illnesses caused by exposure to radiation or hazardous chemicals at Hanford, according to DOE. Its drug-testing program also works well, Tyree said.