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Retired 9/11 First Responders running out of healthcare options in Southwest Florida

Posted at 1:09 AM, Nov 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-02 01:09:30-04

CAPE CORAL — We’re hearing from several first-responders who were there the day the Twin Towers fell on September 11th, 2001.

They retired down here to Florida, but now they tell us they’re running out of options for healthcare, something they were promised after they retired from serving the City of New York.

Bill McMahon and Eric Bergstrom were both sergeants with the New York City Police Department. When the towers fell, they were some of the few running toward the disaster.

"People were walking in the streets on the Westside Highway I was going down. It was a brutal day," said Bergstrom.

"We didn’t have masks, we didn’t have breathing apparatuses for the first week or so," said McMahon.

Because of that exposure, 20 years later the two men tell us they have serious chronic health problems.

"I have pulmonary issues. I have other issues, I have stuff with my stomach now," said McMahon.

"I’ve had a few friends that died and colleagues that have died over the years from that deadly smoke, and I ended up with prostate cancer approximately two years ago," said Bergstrom.

Like many retired NYPD officers, both men have health insurance through the company Emblem Health, but they say it doesn’t work at Lee County’s major healthcare providers, like Lee Health.

So they started a Facebook group to work together to find doctors in their network.

"Because we can’t find doctors, and the website isn’t updated, we exchange doctor information ourselves," said McMahon.

Through that information exchange, McMahon learned this year two more doctors in Lee County are joining companies and are no longer accepting his insurance.

"I even got a letter from them saying that they will no longer be taking our coverage after the new year starts," said McMahon.

With those two doctors no longer accepting their insurance, they tell us Dr. Lawrence Gardner is now the only primary care physician in the City of Cape Coral they can go to, and for any bigger medical needs, they say they need to make a pretty long drive.

"The nearest ENT for us is in Jacksonville. I called Emblem to get a gynecologist for my daughter. You what they told me? Take her to Planned Parenthood," said McMahon.

For Bergstrom’s cancer treatments, he had to drive all the way back to New York.

“1,300 miles back and forth 8 times to New York City for treatment," said Bergstrom.

"That was the most horrendous thing I ever had to go through was to watch my husband have to travel 1,300 miles under chemotherapy and worry, are you ok?” said Theresa Berstrom, Eric's wife.

Both men are now fighting to have Emblem form a deal with a healthcare provider here in Southwest Florida, so that the hundreds of first-responders living here who were there during 9-11 have somewhere to go for care.

“They told us the air was safe. It wasn’t. Now they’re telling us we have our healthcare for life, and it’s not true either," said McMahon.

We reached out to Emblem Health’s CEO through her email, and tried calling the company, but we have not heard back.

Lee Health responded to us, simply saying all questions about coverage need to be directed to Emblem Health.