Empathetic health contractor sought for Hanford

Leadership of Hanford's new occupational health contractor should have empathy for Hanford employees and good teamwork with other site contractors, according to the Hanford Advisory Board.

HAB has sent the Department of Energy advice on what it should look for in the next occupational health contractor as it prepares to write its request for proposals, a type of bid request. AdvanceMed Hanford was awarded a contract in 2004 with options to extend it for up to a decade.

DOE has taken the first step in rebidding the contract by issuing a request for information to identify small businesses that might be interested in providing health services for about 10,000 federal and contractor employees. Board members said a request for proposals could be issued next year.

"A core value of DOE and its contractor should be the health and safety of employees based on an underlying empathy," HAB said.

Last year the Beryllium Awareness Group at Hanford sent AdvanceMed a letter saying the group had "no confidence" in its beryllium services. And although DOE gave the contractor a "good" rating for the year, it said it needed to strengthen its patient advocacy.

AdvanceMed said it has made improvements, including staffing changes.

The board recommended potential contractors be required to answer several questions related to patient advocacy. They should discuss plans for communication to help workers understand their choices for treatment after an injury or chemical exposure, as well as how they will give employees the opportunity to have an independent employee ombudsman present during medical questioning and exams.

It also wanted to know specific procedures that would be planned for workers who have symptoms of chemical exposure and how employees would be helped to manage worker compensation or other claims.

AdvanceMed Hanford is not part of the Hanford Concerns Council, but DOE should encourage the next occupational medicine contractor to participate, the board said. The DOE-supported council is used for resolving significant concerns of workers, many of which are related to employee health.

Board members also said they were concerned that the occupational health contractor be truly independent of other contractors that are responsible for maintaining budgets and schedules to perform environmental cleanup at Hanford.

But it also needs to play a role with cleanup contractors in influencing the work environment at Hanford, the board said.

"It should make significant contributions by providing data for a site map pinpointing the high medical-risk locations from asbestos, beryllium and other chemicals," HAB said.

The board also recommended the request for proposals require prospective contractors to discuss how they would reach out to the local medical community and to workers to educate them on Hanford's risks for exposure to radiation, beryllium and chemical vapors.

The medical support contractor needs to lead the effort to discuss benefits of being tested for beryllium sensitization, HAB said. Sensitization is an indication that further exposure to the metal could lead to an incurable lung disease.

Annette Cary: 582-1533;