By Charlotte Underwood 

LAFOLLETTE, TN (WLAF) – South Campbell County Rotarians learned about Community Health of East Tennessee’s Black Lung Clinic at Tuesday’s club luncheon held at the LaFollette Methodist Church.

Black Lung Benefits Counselor Sharon Comer spoke about CHET’S Black Lung Clinic, which started in 1980 when CHET was known as REACHES. 

Currently it is the only Black Lung Clinic in the state of Tennessee and serves Tennessee and Southeast Kentucky mostly.

Sharon Comer spoke about CHET’S Black Lung Clinic at Tuesday’s South Campbell County Rotary Club luncheon.

“We mainly see retired and former miner’s in our clinic. Black Lung or coal miner’s lung, is from working in the mines; it creates respiratory disease,” Comer said.

She did say that even with modern mining techniques, Black Lung is still prevalent and that they sometimes see 40 and 45 year olds who have health issues.

According to Comer, the Black Lung Clinic “provides diagnosis, treatment, and benefits counseling to active and retired coal miners with respiratory and pulmonary impairments. Health education and rehabilitation is the key to preventive care. The Black Lung Program make these services available to the miner and others with occupational related respiratory illness. The program also helps respiratory disease patients and their families cope with their disease, improve their breathing, endurance, and improve the quality of their lives.”

She explained some of the processes of how the clinic helps miners. 

“They file paperwork through the department of labor, and we help them fill out the forms. They have a free medical exam, chest x-ray, and other tests. After exams, the coal company has an attorney fighting against the coal miner so the coal company doesn’t have to pay,” Comer said

The Black Lung Clinic helps the miner through these legal processes as well and deals with attorneys for them too and handles four or five hearings a month.

“A lot of these coal miner’s we see started working at 12 or 14 years old and are uneducated about how to fill out paperwork. That’s what we are there for, we are basically the middle man. We try to bridge that gap and go through the beginning to the end,” Comer said.

According to Comer, the Clinic is currently serving about 700 former or active miners, with the majority of them coming from Kentucky. 

The Black Lung Clinic has a respiratory therapist and a nurse on staff as well.

“We are federally funded, that helps us be there for them without any charge. We do outreach in Kentucky and other areas to try to get the word out to help these guys. We try to do overall education and care for these miner’s. It’s a very rewarding job,” Comer said.

For more information about CHET’S Black Lung program, co tact Comer at 423.563.1015. CHET is located at 130 Independence Lane, in LaFollette.  You can also check out the TN Black Lung Program on Facebook.  (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 11/16/2023-6AM)