When Dr. Donald Rasmussen, who was described by The New York Times as a “crusader for coal miners’ health,” passed away in July 2015, the many patients who sought him out for diagnosis and treatment of black lung disease in southern West Virginia lost their champion. As of yesterday (July 25), three WVU Medicine Occupational Medicine specialists, who are faculty in the WVU School of Public Health, are beginning to pick up where he left off by seeing patients at the Cabin Creek Health Center in Dawes.
Black lung disease, or coal miners’ pneumoconiosis, is caused by inhaling coal dust. It gets its name from the fact that those who have the disease have lungs that are black in color instead of pink, the color of healthy lungs. To qualify for coverage under the Federal Black Lung Program, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor Division of Coal Mine Workers’ Compensation, patients must be evaluated by a physician on the Division’s Approved Diagnostic Provider List.
Dr. Anna Allen, WVU Occupational Medicine specialist, said that Rasmussen, who she called “the pioneer of black lung evaluation,” saw a large percentage of the black lung patients in southern West Virginia and his passing created a void that has now existed for a year.
“This is a much-needed service in the southern part of the state because there is a lot of pulmonary disease there,” Allen said. “These patients need access to treatment, and if they qualify, we want that treatment to be there for them.”
Allen said that she, Drs. Chuanfang Jin and Charles Werntz will see patients at the Cabin Creek Health Center two days per month on a rotating basis with the goal of eventually increasing their coverage at the clinic.
“It’s a nice clinic right in the heart of coal country. You can see the coal trucks going down the road from inside the clinic,” she said. “We’re looking forward to working with them.”
The Cabin Creek Health Center is located at 5722 Cabin Creek Road. It is open from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and from 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. For more information, visit cabincreekhealth.com or call 304-595-5006.