COMBI Clinic contracted by Gopher Resource Minimized Potential Lead and Cadmium Exposure
Workers in a Florida lead plant were, at best, misled by a clinic contracted through their employer who failed to tell them their health was at risk from toxic metals lead and cadmium. The clinic, operated by Comprehensive Occupational Medicine for Business & Industry (COMBI) provided Gopher Resource lead plant workers with federally mandated medical examinations and blood tests since 2013. The clinic also handled the corporation’s workers’ compensation cases.
Tampa Bay Times conducted an investigation in 2021 that revealed “serious flaws” in care that workers received at COMBI. Their investigation found that clinic medical director Dr. Bruce Bohnker minimized signs of serious health issues and failed to perform follow-up testing and care for workers, many of whom were exposed to lead and cadmium levels “dozens and hundreds of times” more than federal safety limits.
Under scrutiny, the clinic closed in April 2022, saying only that Bohnker was retiring. The company refused to speak to Tampa Bay Times reporters.
COMBI wasn’t the only entity that continuously failed lead workers. Gopher Resources provided workers with respirators that were sometimes ineffective in protecting them. The company’s ventilation system was also not functioning properly for significant periods of time, and the company was slow to act in fixing it. Their failure to respond likely resulted in high toxic exposure among workers.
[gdlr_quote align=”center” ]… between 2014 and 2018, the majority of workers had blood lead levels high enough to pose increased risk for kidney problems, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease[/gdlr_quote]
According to the Times investigation, when workers complained of medical conditions that could have been related to toxic metal exposure, little follow-up was conducted. Workers were reportedly not told of the potential link to lead, and instead cleared to work.
The Times reported that, between 2014 and 2018, the majority of workers had blood lead levels high enough to pose increased risk for kidney problems, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. The clinic had also not followed up with care or testing for workers whose blood cadmium levels were high enough to cause increased risk of cancer and kidney damage.
Only when Times reporters began asking questions did the company follow up with testing for some employees.
COMBI was managed by TeamHealth Ambulatory Care. It also provided occupational medicine services to City of Tampa firefighters and other Tampa-area employees. It is unknown if those workers had similar complaints.
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