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LADC delays decision on research center

| August 4, 2004 12:00 AM

By Roger Morris, Western News Publisher

After seeking more information a week ago from proponents of the Libby Research Center, the Libby Area Development Co. postponed a decision until Wednesday, Aug. 4, while they discuss how much money is remaining of the $8 million fund.

The Center for Asbestos Related Disease is seeking $250,000 as local support to help get the research center started. Specifically, the money would be used to purchase the technology for informational exchange from the Libby asbestos vicitm¹s data base and for creation of a tissue bank storage area.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the EPA, Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry, the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and the National Cancer Institute have expressed interest in participating in a center that is a partnership of public and private funding. Also, the research facility, as proposed, has the endorsement of nearly a dozen pulmonologists, toxicologists and environmental health doctors in the country who have met twice in Libby with proponents.

Presently the CARD clinic employs seven full time employees but as the research center begins attracting more outside interest, more employees will be added through funding by those research projects.

LADC chair Rob McDonald asked Thursday morning if the proposal was economic development or community development.

³Both,² replied CARD president Mike Giesey. ³We¹re looking at having Dr. (Alan) Whitehouse work out of the clinic and keeping his 400 patients here rather than they going to Spokane.²

Whitehouse has announced his intention to retire from his Spokane practice and see his Libby asbestos patients at the CARD clinic a couple of times a month.

In addition, Giesey said, researchers will be coming to Libby to use or arrange for access to the asbestos-related disease data base. There is a possibility of researchers being in the community for long-term projects.

Additionally, $700,000 to $800,000 in medical care was spent last year in Spokane by Whitehouse¹s patients, said LeRoy Thom. According to Health Network of America, administrator of the W.R. Grace health plan for Libby asbestos victims, $1.3 million was paid out in claims to Whitehouse and other Spokane health care providers.

One hundred and twenty-five CT scans ordered by Whitehouse through Spokane facilities would be done through St. John¹s Lutheran Hospital, said Bob Munson, a consultant working with the CARD group. That comes to about $100,000 a year.

The patients spend an unknown amount of money in Spokane on non-medical related items, too, Thom said.

³People are going to shop out of town regardless of their having a doctor¹s appointment,² said Earl Messick, LADC board member.

Messick suggested that LADC needed more time to read over the latest information provided by CARD. The CARD response to LADC questions was 12 pages. The proposal submitted to LADC on July 7 for the Libby Research Center is 30 pages and includes a letter from the Lincoln county commissioners urging support.

McDonald asked that if the proposal was good for the hospital then why wasn¹t somebody at the meeting from St. John¹s to endorse the project.

Thom said CARD¹s relationship with the local medical community is good and not a threat but complementary to it.

Messick repeated his request to ³keep studying on it.²

Bob Castaneda, a newer member of the LADC board, asked for a discussion on how the remaining money, estimated to be about $1.6 million, should be spent

³If we keep giving grants, the money will be gone,² he said. ³I¹d like to have discussion on what is the intent.²

McDonald asked CARD members if the request was for a grant.

³We see this as initial seed money to leverage for other outside money,² said Vicki Munson, project co-consultant. ³We will bring in other dollars for research.²

CARD had received a $26,000 grant from LADC last year to host the conferences that brought the medical experts from across the country to Libby. From that initial conference evolved the consensus among the doctors that an independent research facility should be created in Libby.

McDonald, referring to Castaneda¹s request, suggested LADC meet and discuss how to spend the remaining money before deciding on CARD¹s request. The LADC board agreed to meet for a Thursday luncheon meeting.

Libby City Council member Gary Huntsberger asked what happens if LADC turns down the request.

³It will show a lack of support from the community,² Giesey said. ³It will make it difficult to get outside money without local support. But we will move forward.²

Gayla Benefield, a CARD board member, said Dr. Stephen Levine, who is working with the CARD on the proposal, has indicated that Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City would be more than willing to establish the national center since the 9-11 attacks exposed thousands of people in New York to Libby tremolite asbestos used as a fire retardant on the steel of the World Trade Center towers. Levine is a co-professor at Mount Sinai and co-director for the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program.

Huntsberger was asked to find out if the city intends on paying back it¹s $1 million.

³There will be a research center somewhere in the country to do this type of research,² Giesey said. ³If not in Libby, it will be a loss. We want to go forward but when we seek outside money the first thing they ask is what is your local support.²

McDonald said the LADC will have an answer on Aug. 4, ³no more fooling around.²

³Here¹s the dilemma this board faces: what¹s more important, the ski hill or the research center,² said Rumelhart, teasing Giesey, a long-time Turner Mountain ski hill volunteer.

Also on Thursday¹s agenda, Turner Mountain representative Bruce Zwang presented LADC with a request for $302,000 to construct a day lodge.

That request was postponed, also.