Special Reports

Lockheed: Health care data off-limits

TALLEVAST - Lockheed Martin Corp. will not seek access to medical records compiled through a free health care program as previously stated, according to a statement issued Wednesday by Gail Rymer, Lockheed spokeswoman.

Rymer, who took responsibility for the mistake, said she was incorrect last week when she said company lawyers would seek access to medical records from the free exams if any plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Lockheed used any findings from those exams to back up claims of anxiety or emotional distress caused by the Tallevast plume of toxic waste.

Lockheed has created a $500,000 trust through the Bank of New York to fund a free health care program under the direction of Dr. Steven Morris, for current and former Tallevast residents, as well people who work in Tallevast.

"There truly are no strings attached," Rymer said. "I misunderstood, but now that it is has been explained to me, I realize it has never been our intent to have access to these records. We will not at any time seek access to these records."

Rymer's retraction floored Wanda Washington, vice president of FOCUS, a residents' advocacy group who has been concerned about how Lockheed might use information compiled through the free exams.

"Does this mean she really misunderstood or is Lockheed changing policy once again?" Washington said. "This is why they need to come to the table, to meet with FOCUS. We still have a lot of questions."

Rymer's promise needs to be written into the trust document that created the free medical program, said Laura Ward, FOCUS president.

Furthermore, she said, the defense giant must be willing to meet with FOCUS in a community meeting to explain the program.

Ed Cottingham, lead attorney for the Tallevast plaintiffs, said Morris has refused to answer meeting requests from FOCUS.

"Dr. Morris and Lockheed need to know this program can be done, but it depends upon FOCUS to make it work," Ward said. "If they are the nice guys they say they are, then they should be willing to meet and come to the table."

County Commissioner Carol Whitmore and Dan Schlandt, from the county administrator's office, met with Ward and Washington on Wednesday at the FOCUS office.

Both promised to approach Lockheed with the advocacy group's desire for a meeting with the company.

"We need the medical program," said Ward, who claims many residents have been made sick by the pollution. "We need extended medical care. And Lockheed needs to realize that FOCUS is the spokesgroup for the community."

Rymer said she hopes the community will accept the company's promise and take advantage of the free medical program.

"I am truly sorry for this misunderstanding," she said. "I personally hope they will call Dr. Morris. Everything they discuss with Dr. Morris and his team of doctors is off-limits to Lockheed Martin."

Rymer said the error caught the attention of Lockheed's top officers.

"Lockheed Martin management from the top down - and I mean the very top - is seriously committed to doing what is right for the community," Rymer said.

As the former owner of the beryllium plant identified as the source of the Tallevast plume, Lockheed has the responsibility to investigate the extent of the pollution and remove the toxic waste from contaminated groundwater. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection oversees that process.

Donna Wright, health and social services reporter, can be reached at 745-7049 or at dwright@Bradenton.com.

Lockheed Martin Corp. retraction

"I want to correct my statement to the Bradenton Herald regarding Lockheed Martin's access to the medical records from the Tallevast Community Health program run by Dr. Morris and funded by Lockheed Martin.

"There was a misunderstanding between me and our lawyers. It has never been our intent to have access to the records from the Lockheed Martin-funded program. As represented on our Web site and in the announcements about the medical exams, we will not seek, at any time, these records.

"Anything discussed or any medical tests taken with Dr. Morris and his team, are off-limits to Lockheed Martin. There are truly no strings attached.

"I am extremely sorry for creating this misunderstanding and hope you will consider correcting the record and let the community know that Lockheed Martin hopes they will take advantage of this program."

- Gail Rymer, director, Environmental Communications,

Lockheed Martin Corp.